Ableist presumptions

Surfing the internet for news a Toronto Sun headline caught my attention Passengers save blind man from train tracks. One sentence from the short article jumped out at me \”How he fell we don\’t know.\” (quoting the Calgary Police.)

So, we have no reason to think that the man\’s visual impairment had anything to do with his fall. We know that he was taken to the hospital. The article does not give us enough information to know whether the man\’s visual impairment rather than his physical injuries prevented him from getting out the way of the train. In fact, the only person mentioned in the article whose \”sightedness\” was relevant to the rescue was the driver who was not aware that someone had fallen under the train until passengers alerted hir.

All of the Canadian papers I found that picked up the story from The Calgary Sun/QMI Agency used that same headline.

To its credit The Calgary Herald moved the fact that the accident victim was visually impaired from the headline to the first paragraph of the article Witnesses alert C-Train driver after man falls. In all the articles I read the man was defined first (and only) as visually impaired. We are not told how old he is (though that is the type of detail routinely reported in newspaper stories.) We aren\’t told if he is a father or grandfather (another favourite of newspapers.) We aren\’t told if he was rushing to work or if he was retired. Given that the only personal detail included was that he was visually impaired the reader is likely to jump to the presumption that that detail is relevant to the accident. Which will probably lead to more people grabbing visually challenged strangers by the elbow in order to \”help\” them maneuver their way through train stations and across streets they may know better than the people attempting to help them.

I spent the better part of this summer wearing a support brace on my right ankle. I injured that ankle walking on an uncrowded sidewalk. It was bright day and the sidewalk was dry. I just fell. I don\’t know why. Fortunately I did not fall in front of an oncoming car.

I do know that if I was visually impaired and I had fallen in front of a car the headline in the local newspaper would probably have been \”Blind woman falls in front of oncoming car.\”


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