At first it struck me as funny. Then it made me think. I was tooting along in the mall and I saw a woman slowly waving a white cane in front of her as she walked. I pulled over to the side to ensure she had lots of room to pass. My wheelchair is completely silent as it moves and, as it takes up significant space, I want to be careful. I could hear the tap, tap, tap, of her cane as she walked, confidently. On her arm was a man, I'm guessing her husband, his cane was folded up and carried casually in his hand.
Not something that would normally strike me as noteworthy. A wonderfully ordinary scene that occurs more and more often as we, disabled people, take our rightful place in the community. I noticed that practically no one noticed. Well beyond being careful to not be in the way, but seconds after passing - the incident was forgotten.
What distracted me was the words that popped into my mind: the blind leading the blind.
I have always heard that phrase in reference to the concept of the incompetent directing the incapable. I'm not sure that it's a term that I've ever used. But it's one that I hear, if not often, regularly.
And here I was seeing the blind leading the blind and what I saw was a man relaxed in the confidence that the woman he was with was guiding him properly. I imagined the math going on in her head. She'd have to have an exact sense of how much space he took up and how much space she needed to leave beside her in order for catastrophe to be avoided. The sweep of her cane was broad but she did it as if she'd done it a thousand times before.
So the blind leading the blind isn't necessarily a bad idea, and further, may actually be a good one.
The thing is it got me thinking about language and the use of disability as a metaphor for inadequacy and incapacity and incompetence.
turning a deaf ear
Those are just some of the ways that disability has made it into language. Oddly, disability as metaphor is more welcome than disability in reality. It seems that one of the best and easiest ways to telegraph an idea is to link it to a disabling condition. We are told that this is just language and it doesn't mean anything about attitudes.
I'm not sure. In fact I've taken a pledge to eliminate the use of disability as an adjective to diminish a noun. I can't believe how often I have to edit my own speech.
I'm wondering, do you notice when people use these kinds of words, how do you react to them?