Originally posted October 12, 2006.
So already discussion boards are filling up with posts about the NFB's lawsuit against Target Corp. for deploying an inaccessible website.
You can guess, most posts are not favorable. Here is a sample taken from Fark.com, written by a user known as "Lamune_Baba":
"You're handicapped. Great. Sorry, really. We'll do what we can, but that doesn't mean the world should suddently revolve around making your life easy. If you can't read their store page, don't farking shop there." Read the post here.
Spelling aside, Lamune_Baba's claims reflect what is likely the majority sentiment in the U.S. about this case, and this sentiment is precisely why the suit is a positive step.
It doesn't take Lionel Trilling to close read the implications of the opening sentences in Lamune_Baba's post--here, the "handicapped" are situated as a cultural other, and the rest of this quotation suggests that separate but unequal is not only constitutional, but common sensical.
Aside from the obvious problems inherent in such a suit--rendering virtual space a tangible space that is subject to U.S. law (prepare for the e-mail tax if this claim is upheld)--the benefits can be legion if presented correctly even if the suit ends in dismissal.
While Universal Design is slowly becoming a paradigm of course design at the university, the slaverous commercial sector is slow to understand the ableist ideology and will most assuredly be the slowest segment of the population to disrupt it. Too much time and effort has gone into propagating a normative, ableist ideology, and one lawsuit (or one law, like the ADA) is unlikely to budge the inherent prejudices, no matter how big a lever the NFB can wield.
However, if this lawsuit can foreground a rational position and clearly define it (and no one knows how long it will take to spread the idea of "disability" as a social construction), the suit might begin to augur a sea change in perception about people with disabilities.
Lamune_Baba's position would likely change if, while in service at his grandfather's business (and how often the inheritors of wealth become the most vocal of defenders for it), he were to suffer even a temporary loss of vision. L.B.'s problem of perspective is not singular; it is the acting falsehood of an ableist ideology--"I am healthy. Other people are not. And, I'm not likely to be one of them."
The helix of health, worth, and privilege is a knot in American consciousness that requires a New England sailor to disentangle. Perhaps this suit might be another salvo in what normative culture has clearly established as a war for basic human rights within the "greatest country on Earth."
Read Lennard Davis, Rosemarie Garland Thomson, and Paul K. Longmore if you're interested in the history of subordination of the U.S.'s invisible minority culture.