[nfbwatlk] An Apology

Arielle Silverman arielle71 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 26 16:57:06 UTC 2015

Hi Mike and all,
As you read my response, please understand that I am trained as a
social psychologist, and social psychology is the study of why people
interact the way they do. Much of social psychology attempts to
understand why people discriminate against groups of people. The
philosophy is that the more we can explain human behavior, the better
we can predict and control human behavior. I chose this field of study
and work because I believe that knowledge is power, and that it is
possible to analyze any situation in order to improve it in a
strategic way. In fact, social psychology really blossomed as a
discipline after social scientists became motivated to try to
understand why the Holocaust happened. The Nazi regime, eugenics, etc.
was incredibly rational. Incredibly immoral and unjust, but still, a
cold, calculating approach to optimizing society. Most of the
discrimination we face, too, can be traced to rational reasons, even
if those reasons are unjust or immoral.
When people discriminate against us, it is usually because they have
some other goal or value they want to defend, and they see our rights
as being in conflict with their goal. On airplanes, the goal is
safety. Flight attendants and crews are obligated to make sure the
plane doesn't go down. They are under a lot of time pressure. When
people are in these high-stakes situations, they tend to rely on
stereotypes because stereotypes are easy, quick-and-dirty tricks we
can use to classify people as threatening or non-threatening. If
flight crew members have a stereotype that blind people aren't able to
evacuate, handle the exit row or that their canes are dangerous, they
will rely on this stereotype because they don't want to take any
chances. The stereotype is wrong, but it's still rational.
Stereotyping also explains the high incidence of racial profiling in
air travel. It is a huge moral problem, but we need to understand why
it happens in order to find a solution. Also, when we get on a plane,
the flight attendants might not remember what their training told them
about how to handle disabled passengers. The cool ones will just defer
to us to request any accommodations we may need, but others will be so
concerned about covering all the safety bases that they may rush to
take our canes or give us special briefings or whatever they think in
the moment that they need to do. Then, if we try to defend ourselves
against having our canes taken, they interpret this as being a
security threat because, again, safety is their top priority. I'm not
sure what the solution to these airline issues is. A lot probably
involves improving the training process for crew members. But instead
of just villainizing the airlines, I think it would be more productive
if we at least tried to understand where they are coming from and what
their goals are.
In general, though we face a lot of discrimination in society, I think
it rarely comes from cold-blooded hate toward blind people. Usually
there's some other goal or concern that people see as being in
conflict with our rights. In the case of guide dog access, it may be
public health concerns. In the case of website inaccessibility, it may
be the fear that redesigning the site would be too costly. In the case
of accessible standardized testing, test makers may think
accessibility would compromise the integrity of the test. These are
all rational concerns, even though they are often misinformed.
Whatever it is, I think we would be stronger as an organization if we
listened to these concerns and worked to debunk them, instead of just
rushing to litigation and legal pressure. I do believe that for the
most part, we as an organization do a good job of talking to folks and
weighing the whole situation. But it concerns me when sometimes our
members criticize an entity without attempting to understand why it is
acting the way it is toward blind people. It doesn't mean we
compromise our rights. It just means we find a way to convince these
entities that they can have the things they want while also supporting
our full participation.
Best, Arielle

On 3/26/15, Mike Freeman <k7uij at panix.com> wrote:
> Arielle:
> Question: How can we understand both sides of a situation when one side is
> essentially irrational, i.e., not susceptible of analysis?
> Mike Freeman
> -----Original Message-----
> From: nfbwatlk [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Arielle
> Silverman via nfbwatlk
> Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 8:57 PM
> To: nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org
> Subject: [nfbwatlk] An Apology
> Hi Sushil,
> I want to apologize to you on list for my comments I made about your
> incident with Alaska Airlines. Reading over them again, I think I came
> across as being a lot more harsh than I intended, especially since I don't
> think we've met. I'm sorry for any hurt my comments may have caused.
> Even though we haven't met, I always believed you were telling the truth
> about what happened and I never thought you were leaving out any facts. My
> reaction was more coming from my surprise and confusion about why the
> incident happened. When I said I thought we don't know all the information,
> I was referring to more subtle things that might have gone down in your
> conversation with the airline staff, like your body language and Byron's,
> that could have caused it to escalate. In general, I like to try to figure
> out both sides of a situation if I can. I think we as an organization can
> target discrimination more effectively when we can figure out the other
> party's reasons for discriminating. Even when those reasons aren't valid,
> it's helpful for us to know the discriminator's motives so we can plan a
> strategic defense. Sometimes, knowing their motives can lead to a
> compromise
> solution.
> I experienced airline discrimination a few months ago (though not as
> serious
> as your case) so I empathize with your situation and I do support you in
> any
> action you may choose to take. In my case, the flight attendant who
> reseated
> me eventually apologized and admitted that he made a mistake and
> misinterpreted the regs aboutwhere blind people can sit. I hope you are
> able
> to reach a satisfactory settlement with the airline. Again, I am sorry that
> my empathy and support probably didn't come through in my first response to
> this thread.
> Best, Arielle
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