I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman years ago. It’s an outstanding book. It is chock-full of ideas that were even more cutting edge 15 years ago (when I read it) than they are now, but even now, they still hold true.
One of the ideas in the book that really stuck with me over the years was that the internet is a freedom-tool. It’s a means whereby we can create an end. If we have access to the internet, we have access to tools that can help us create whatever we want: a business, a community, whatever.
Now, I’m deaf. You know that.
Being d/Deaf is a highly isolating disability. We d/Deaf are often alone in schools, workplaces, out and about, for the simple reason that it can be frustrating/impossible to communicate easily with others. We can’t hear them; they don’t know how to talk to us.
Our education is often impaired, hampered down by lack of access, inability to reach the content, either because we don’t know ASL, don’t have access to ASL, or or classes are not taught in visual formats.
We d/Deaf are not alone: many (if not most) all other disabilities are equally isolating.
Maybe other disabilities can hear and access content through aural means, but they often have physical, visual or psychological barriers to access. Employers often hesitate to hire us across the disability spectrum, not knowing what else we might be bringing with us (besides our expertise of course!).
As a career and employment counselor, I’ve thought a lot about this, of course. I’ve worked a lot with this, too. How to disclose, when to disclose, how to re-think aspects of our disabilities, figuring out what we bring to the table by dint of our disabilities, not in spite of them.
I’ve spent a whole lot of time staring at disability benefits, The Red Book, PASS plans, DOR what-not and trying to figure out how to make things work for people that I’ve been working for. And in the end, I keep on coming back to this internet and website stuff.
Like, if we can create our own spaces, if we know how to do this, we have SO MUCH MORE control over what we want.
We have control over our narratives. We can design our spaces and reach out, creating community with others who are also isolated because of disability. WE ARE NOT ALONE and the more we connect with others, the more we can feel that, and know our collective power.
When we know how to create websites, we have the wherewithal to sell things online. We can self-publish our own books, tell our stories the way we want them told, BY us and FOR us.
When we know the tools that make a website accessible or not, we are able to demand that they be in place.
We can create systems for education. We can homeschool, unschool our kids if we want, through our own websites or through accessing others.
There is so much that we can accomplish, with the internet. There is so much we can tap and tune into, turn ourselves toward. Give a person a fish and they each for a meal; teach a person to fish and they can catch their own meals as long as there are fish. We’ve got the same analogy running here, because if we have the internet rolling and the means to set up our sites, we can catch ourselves a whole lotta fish; heck, the ocean is ours!
The internet is not everything; no it’s not. And not everyone is able/willing to learn their way around it. Websites are also not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s like the premise of the The Lexus and the Olive Tree: you’ve got the Lexus, this luxury car in which in they have specialized robots designed solely to apply glue to the protective rubber around windshields. And you’ve got the Olive tree: the symbol of ancient traditions, religion, culture.
The ‘tech’ vs. ‘tradition’
Tech vs. tradition. Huge, often contrasting pieces within our disability experiences. We have our cultural traditions which propel disability as something to be overcome, as a stigma, this unwanted, undesirable aspect of our existence, right? And we have the modern ‘tech’ version of disability which is about disability being a natural part of the human experience, and an avenue whereby we can experience the world in a unique way, an opportunity for expansion and learning, even.
The modern/tech version of disability tends to be the one that we like better, because it’s so much more empowering. It gives us tools, it allows us to create our own tools, and it says the truth that we know: we are more than able to create our own destiny. We are smart, powerful people. We can do this.
So here’s what I think: I think websites are awesome tools.
I think they belong in the modern/tech bag, they are the Lexus’ in the world of disability. I think we can be/do/have pretty much anything with the help of them, and I think that knowing how to create them is an important skill for anyone, but most of all for us who have disabilities.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.