Sensitivity Readers

Sally by a pool with Dave and granddog Carl, who is licking her face.

Even though blind Suzie lived in a world of darkness, she had a sunny disposition!

That sentiment would get the “Oh gag award” in any book, about any character, which I can bestow, since I was a recipient—once—for a particularly saccharine phrase. But that sentence is not only a sappy cliché, it’s a complete mistake. Blindness isn’t darkness! It isn’t midnight. It’s nothingness which looks like mist—all the time, day or night. Yet, that sentence has appeared almost verbatim in many award-winning books by award-winning authors—all of them sighted, even in the ALA 2017 best books.

I didn’t realize how angry such errors made me until I nearly tossed my defenseless audio book machine out the window, in response. Unless more care is taken by publishers for accuracy in portraying the disability experience, I’ll have to read unbreakable Braille books.

Seriously, I support anyone writing about any subject, about any character he/she wants to write about. I do not think only blind people can write about blindness. But sighted authors have to get the facts straight. Years of research wouldn’t have been necessary for the author of the flawed book (that turned me violent) to learn that counting steps is a blind person’s last-resort tool for finding destination, that touching the face shows what the person feels, not looks like. The most minimal fact-finding approach, simply interviewing a sampling of congenitally and adventitiously disabled people, would reduce the bulk of the stereotypes. With the cultural appropriation concerns today, I’m pretty astonished that agents and editors aren’t more attentive to possible errors by able-bodied authors in books about disability.

So, in response, I’m casting myself as a sensitivity reader, particularly on blindness, deafness, and Deaf-Blindness. Please contact me for help, and in addition, I’ll offer Dave and our grand dog Carl’s assistance in sniffing out all stinky grammar and unleashed doggerel.