Feedback on Blind Man's Story on This American Life

Blog Date: 
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The following is a copy of an e-mail that was recently sent by NFB member Bob Hartt to the producers of NPR's This American Life

This American Life,
As a 62 year old who has gradually lost vision all my life and is now almost totally blind, I perked up when hearing your story on Ryan Knighton when the story was broadcast on Saturday, June 8, 2013, on my local NPR station, WAMU in Washington, DC.  I was disappointed that the producers chose to compose a piece that portrayed such a negative stereotypical story about blindness without at least balancing it with a reference to other sources of information about living with vision loss.  There are many sources where one can go to learn about how one can successfully overcome many of the obstacles encountered by people who are blind.
 
I have found myself in many of the same kinds of situations described by Mr. Knighton, and I don’t object to poking fun at myself and sharing the humor of such situations with others.  What I find sad and tragic is not the predicaments described by Mr. Knighton, but the lack of information and perspective on what was described for the thousands of people who will hear this broadcast.  This is not Mr. Knighton’s responsibility, but the responsibility of journalists who I believe should adhere to higher standards when researching and preparing stories that will affect the attitudes and lives of millions of people.
 
As an example, Mr. Knighton describe his predicament in groping around his hotel room walls and furniture unable to find the telephone, only to find the next day that there was an alcove and two couches and two coffee tables.  One of the first things a person learns when receiving rehabilitation training for blindness is proper mobility with a white cane.  When someone who has received such training enters an unfamiliar hotel room, the first thing you are taught is to efficiently trace the perimeter of the room using the cane to understand its dimensions and contents.  The fact that Mr. Knighton may not have had such training or may not believe in identifying himself as blind by using a white cane is beside the point.  The point is that your listeners deserved at least a brief reference to where they could go to learn more about how others can deal differently with the challenges of blindness.  Expecting listeners to uncover such information if they follow the broadcast’s general advice to explore your web site or blog at the end of the show would be insufficient, and I don’t believe it lives up to the standards I expect from our National Public Radio.
 
A simple Google search will turn up many sources that provide helpful information about living effectively with vision loss.  In my case, I learned how to avoid many of the challenges described by Mr. Knighton from an organization that teaches a very progressive philosophy of blindness and provides practical tools for changing what it means to be blind.  This is information that is sorely needed by both the sighted public and those experiencing vision loss.  It can be found on the web site of the National Federation of the Blind at  www.nfb.org.
 
Your consideration of ways to produce stories about blindness that lead listeners to alternative scenarios in the future would be greatly appreciated.
 
Respectfully,
 
Bob Hartt
Alexandria, Virginia