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Unanticipated access advocacy

I've been a fairly harsh critic of "day in a wheelchair" activities and "awareness days" -- but I have to admit that sometimes -- done right -- they can work wonders. Fresno, CA, activist Ed Eames wrote on Ragged Edge back in 2003 that he'd found that putting Fresno officials in wheelchairs -- and sending them out and about with a disabled companion -- got results.

Mary Burrell, an editor at the Beach Beacon and Seminole Beacon newspapers in Florida, wrote yesterday about her experience using a wheelchair off and on --- for a month! Interesting idea:


As I thought about the value of disability simulations, I also went back and reread Black like me. I had wrongly remembered the book as clueless, and I was pleasant surprised by the author's analysis. I learned why from a critical study Man in the mirror: John Howard Griffin and the story of Black like me, Robert Bonazzi, Orbis Books, 1997.

John Howard Griffin was acutely conscious of the dangers of a racism simulation -- because he spent ten years as a blind man. (This story was finally published posthumously in 2004 as Scattered shadows: a memoir of blindness and vision by Orbis Books. He was blinded by a head injury in the Army and sighted again by an unexplained remission a decade later.)

He understood viscerally how bigotry is a social construction. He had the experience common to all people who acquire an impairment in adulthood: he'd grown up with privilege and power. One simple change to his body rendered him incompetent in the eyes of his friends, family, and larger society.

Black Like Me began as a series in JET magazine. In that context it was clearer that Griffin's point was, "I'm a white guy, a privileged, well-educated son of the South. Simply darkening my skin was enough for most of the white people I met to assume the worst of me: that I was yet another embodiment of the stereotyped 'shiftless Negro.'"

Perhaps this is the point of the "well-connected, capable, can-do reporter encounters barriers upon barriers" stories like Zuill's.

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