by Ike Presley
On the June 6th episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel featured a skit that involved actor Will Smith playing a blind basketball referee. Before reading on, I suggest that you watch the video— of course, it isn't audio described but hopefully you’ll get the gist regardless.
Most of us (who are sports fans) have at some point questioned the eyesight of the officials who oversee games. Personally, I have no problem with people expressing their opinions about the officiating by asking the ref, "Are you blind?" This is so common, I doubt anyone thinks twice about it. That said, this skit took things a little too far.
Here are the things in the skit I found offensive.
- Tossing up the jump ball to start the game, the ref stands between the two players. When he throws the ball up, he throws it right into the face of a player. This is ridiculous and insulting to a basketball fan who is blind. A person who is blind and dreamed of being a basketball referee certainly would know that the ball is thrown up in the air to start the game.
- Right after the jump ball, the ref begins running around, oblivious to what is happening. They even have him clap his hands, tilt his head back and rock his head back and forth. I know that there are some blind musicians who tilt their head and rock, but I was disappointed they picked this stereotype to assign to the ref.
- The ref then calls a goaltending violation. When a player asks, "On whom?" the referee swings his white cane and hits a jug of Gatorade. They’re implying a blind person would not know the difference between hitting his cane on a plastic jug or tapping it on (or towards) a person? They also have him facing and pointing opposite of where the action is occurring.
- A player comments to the coach that it isn’t fair. The coach replies, “You know what’s not fair, is being born without sight.” Okay, so I guess we should pity people who are blind.
- Next, the ref is seen moving on the court using a white cane and a dog. Granted, some people do like to use their cane at times while also using a dog guide, but in general, this is rare. Smith holds both the cane and harness incorrectly. We have enough misinformation out there to combat. This just reinforces additional negative stereotypes.
- The ref is continuously shown running around the court disoriented. I do know some people who are blind who are challenged by orientation, at times, but this is no reason to highlight and make fun of it.
- The scene cuts back to the locker room, and the ref is talking to the coach. The coach walks away without telling Smith, so he keeps talking and reaches out to hug the coach. Instead of just having him reach out into empty space, they take it too far and have him bump into the lockers.
- Another scene has him feeling a man’s face. This is insulting. I do not know any people who are blind that go around feeling people’s faces to identify them. Another demeaning stereotype.
- Next, Smith runs into a rack of basketballs. Any experienced cane traveler would never have run into it. I guess they think that all blind people just go around running into objects all day long.
I know many people who are blind who have a great sense of humor and, when appropriate, are the first ones to laugh at themselves and the crazy things that can happen. The fact that this skit bothers me is not because I am a straight-laced, boring guy. I love humor and light-heartedness. A couple years ago, one of my buddies who is blind came to my Halloween party as a blind referee. It was a great costume, and he played it up to the max—but not once did he do any of the dumb, insulting things depicted in the Kimmel skit.
I guess all we can say is that the need to raise general awareness about blindness and vision loss continues to be a challenge, especially in the pop culture realm. There are several new television shows coming out this fall that will have characters with disabilities, including one with a father who is blind. Unfortunately, they have chosen to not hire actors with disabilities to play these roles, but one can only hope the writers will be sensitive and accurate in their depictions of people who are blind or have other disabilities. I’ll be watching, and will likely have plenty to say on the matter, so stay tuned.
by Mark Richert
On June 27, the anniversary of Helen Keller's birth, you are invited to participate in a unique opportunity to honor the legacy of Helen Keller's beloved teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, and to advocate for improved educational results for all students living with vision loss, including students who may have additional disabilities. Be a part of the National Call-In Day to support the Anne Sullivan Macy Act, and tell Congress to get moving on making America's special education system more accountable for meeting the unique learning needs of students who are blind or visually impaired. Find the full text of the Macy Act and an online support petition at www.AFB.org/MacyAct.
For this National Call-In Day, AFB is proud to offer our field a new and exciting resource for contacting Congress. Using the toll free numbers provided below, you can contact your U.S. House of Representatives member and your two U.S. Senators directly by simply entering your zip code when prompted. Your call is on AFB, and your congressional advocacy for students with vision loss should be easier than ever before.
While you may call using these numbers at any time starting today, we do encourage all who are interested to make a special effort to concentrate calls on Thursday, June 27, during normal business hours. This National Call-In Day is being coordinated with an array of activities in support of the Anne Sullivan Macy Act around June 27.
We hope that every individual who receives this email will participate in the National Call-In Day and share this announcement with family and friends. We are also inviting all interested organizations who would like to play an active part in promoting the National Macy Act Call-In Day to share this announcement with your networks. Encourage your boards of directors, donors, parent groups, association members, alumni, community members, and all appropriate audiences with which you interact, to participate in the National Call-In Day.
To learn more about how you can help and how to best coordinate your national, regional, or local group with the National Macy Act Call-In Day, please contact Rebecca Sheffield, Public Policy Intern, AFB at (202) 469-6838 or at email@example.com.
U.S. House of Representatives: 1-855-882-MACY (6229)
U.S. Senate: 1-877-959-MACY (6229)
Thank you in advance for taking a few minutes to contact your members of Congress. In making these important calls, you are joining families, professionals and consumers from all across America who are as concerned as you are about the readiness of kids with vision loss for college and career.
Once you enter your zip code and get connected to your U.S. House of Representatives member or to each of your two U.S. Senators, identify yourself and let them know you're a constituent. Then, ask them to sponsor the Anne Sullivan Macy Act. You should point them to www.AFB.org/MacyAct for the full text of the legislation and for an online support petition. You may also find an array of useful supporting materials at a joint AFB and Perkins project published on the web at www.ECCAdvocacy.org.
Don't be disappointed if you only get to talk to a receptionist or if you get their voicemail; the fact that you are their constituent and are taking the time to bring the Macy Act to their attention is what it's all about. If you like, you can ask to speak to the staffer in the office who works on special education issues, but that's not necessary.
Named for Helen Keller's beloved teacher, the Anne Sullivan Macy Act would dramatically improve educational results for the more than 100,000 students in America with vision loss, many of whom have additional disabilities. The Macy Act would ensure that these students are properly evaluated and served in light of all their unique learning needs. Without the Anne Sullivan Macy Act, our nation's special education system will remain unable to deliver on its promise of a truly appropriate education for our kids.
Ask your member of Congress, and their staff whom you're likely to speak to, to sponsor the Anne Sullivan Macy Act, and ask them to get back to you with their response. Once you've made your calls, we'd love to hear how it went, so please give us a call or drop us a note at the AFB contact information in this email announcement.
Thank you for your advocacy for children who are blind or visually impaired!
View video message on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dk0usg5RtAo
by Mark Richert
Since July 1, 2012, America's leading broadcast and cable television channels have each been required by law to provide at least 50 hours of primetime or children's programming with video description in every calendar quarter, approximately four hours per week per channel. Video description (or simply “description”) is the narration of on-screen visual elements and actions spoken during natural pauses in program dialogue.
Please take a couple moments and participate in AFB's Described TV Survey, and let us know about your experiences accessing and enjoying television programming with video description. You'll be invited to tell us what your favorite described programs are and which programs that aren't currently being described you would very much like to have described. By taking this survey, you will help AFB and our field as we work to better understand how well the major broadcast and cable networks are complying with the law and how satisfied viewers with vision loss are with their program offerings.
Your answers will be completely anonymous. You may choose, however, to provide your zip code when prompted. The law requires that video description must be provided in the top 25 TV markets, but all broadcast stations and cable companies must pass description through to customers unless some exception applies. Providing your zip code will help us better track how well broadcast stations and cable companies in specific TV markets around the country are doing to comply with the law.
To take the AFB Described TV Survey, follow this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CFTZRJ6
We will be collecting survey responses through July 15, 2013, and hope to report on our findings in late July, so stay tuned. Also, please share this announcement with your family, friends and networks. Thank you!
Couple watching television photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
- Video Description
by Joe Strechay
You may have caught the recent New York Times about Charlotte Brown and Aria Ottmueller, two high school track athletes with visual impairments. They are not being publicized for competing against other athletes with vision loss, but against their sighted peers. These athletes are examples of the roads being paved in the United States for persons with disabilities. Many could not imagine athletes with limited sight competing and succeeding in the pole vault or high jump, yet they are doing it.
Programs like Camp Abilities from Dr. Lauren Lieberman, an AFB Access Award winner and author, have created opportunities for athletes with vision loss to build their confidence and learn about participating in sports. Camp Abilities pushes teens who are blind or visually impaired to get active and create their own opportunities through athletics. The United States Association for Blind Athletes (USABA) is another organization encouraging, supporting, and recognizing athletes who are blind or visually impaired. USABA-sponsored sports have made a difference in my life—I was encouraged to play Goalball, a Paralympic sport, while living in Florida. I loved participating, competing and being active with a team. I was legally blind at age 19, and Goalball gave me the confidence to become more active in sports. It brought back that competitive feeling that I missed. We all should have the opportunity to use our skills, especially in our youth. These students are competing in mainstream sports in the public schools. We need to be encouraging more youth with visual impairments, blindness, and disabilities to be active.
Physical Education and Sports for People with Visual Impairments and Deafblindness: Foundations of Instruction, co-authored by Dr. Lieberman along with Paul E. Ponchillia and Susan V. Ponchillia, Ed.D., is a great resource for general and special education teachers who want a guide on including students with visual impairments in a physical education setting. This is quite close to my heart, as my introduction to our field was as a teacher’s assistant in physical education and adapted physical education at a school for emotional and behavioral special education. Yes, I was legally blind by this time, and I loved the work. I had the opportunity to work with a whole range of students. Dr. Lieberman’s book is an amazing resource, and I have read it. I just wish I'd had this resource back in the day!
Read more about Charlotte Brown and her advice for other students who are blind or visually impaired in the “Our Stories” section of CareerConnect. Charlotte is also featured on the FamilyConnect blog.
High jump equipment image courtesy of Shutterstock.
by Helen Selsdon
May 9, 1933
To the Student Body of Germany
History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.
You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels, and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of my books to the soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people.
Do not imagine your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. God sleepeth not, and He will visit His Judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung round your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.
From the Archivist:
It is 80 years to the day that Helen Keller penned this letter to the Student Body of Germany. It's as powerful now as it was then. Helen came to write this letter because her book entitled How I became a socialist was burned by Nazi youth during the book burning frenzy that took place in Germany in May 1933.
The Helen Keller Archival collection here at the American Foundation for the Blind contains over 80,000 items and there are plenty of extraordinary documents to read and beautiful 3-dimensional items to be wowed by. However, this letter has always stood out for me. It stands out not just because of its richly evocative language and scathing admonishment of what was taking place in Germany, but because it is singularly Helen Keller.
Helen is famous for fighting for those with vision loss, but she was also a fighter for freedom of speech and the right of every individual to live in dignity. Many still think of her as a child at the water pump or a saintly old lady, but this is to come away with a very limited understanding of Helen and what she accomplished.
Helen was a warrior who never ceased throughout her life to demand that women, the poor and disenfranchised be afforded an equal chance to live a full life. It is interesting to consider that as the Cold War set in and many American women were being relegated to the kitchen, here was a person who was in her 60s and 70s, who was deaf, blind, a socialist and a woman, and she was circumnavigating the globe unstoppable in her mission of equal rights and justice for all.
- Helen Keller