Friday, September 14, 2012

Appropriation of Disability Culture

I like to use seed beads to make little barrettes or decorations for my headbands. I often check out Etsy to get inspiration (and aspirations) for my projects. Today, a jewelry-maker caught my eye, because she was selling rings and pendants with braille messages on them.

I was impressed, until I saw that she was also selling "Ohm" earrings and silver & turquoise Indigenous American styled items. It's obviously cultural appropriation. After thinking about it, I think it's fair to say the same thing about the braille jewelry. This is a non-disabled person using one of our languages as a gimmick to make money. In her jewelry description it said,
"Because most seeing people don't know the braille alphabet, it's words are like codes to us...hidden in plain sight."
That's just ignorant. No one is hiding braille. Most seeing people just don't take the time to learn it, but that doesn't mean that its words are like codes. Unfortunately, it got even worse. As I scrolled down the page, I saw this message:
"IF this pendant is meant to be a gift for a sight impared person- please know that they will most likely NOT be able to read this pendant with their finger tips-as I chose to DRILL HOLES where the dots would be raised (in order to read with finger tips); ironically, it LOOKED better this way."
This jewelry-maker chose to exploit the language of visually impaired people and purposely made it unreadable for the very people it was designed for. She decided that it "looked better" that way. I don't even know what to say about foolishness like this. This is what privilege makes possible. You can completely overlook the needs of marginalized people and exploit their culture without a care in the world.


Rootietoot said...

I am very much a "form follows function" sort of person, and the idea of making something unusable in order to make it look better is ridiculous. At first I thought "braille jewelry! COOL!" then she had to go ruin it by ruining it. Good grief. I didn't even think about appropriation or exploitation, only that it's functionality was destroyed.

Lulu said...

Do you think it would be cultural appropriation for me to get a white ink tattoo (they become raised, like scars) in braille? I'm working on reading braille so it wouldn't be like those who get tattoos of languages they cannot speak.

bint alshamsa said...

Lulu, I don't think so. If you're a part of the community of braille readers and you want to show that using your tattoo, I see it differently than if a person just takes something from another culture, screws it up completely, and then tries to make a profit off of it.