Saturday, May 30, 2015

I Almost Overlooked A Worthy Petition

"Make Drew Feel Incredible (because he is)."
"Everyone deserves the opportunity to feel special."
These are the first two lines of text I read of an email from My first though was, “Oh, no! Another non-disabled brother, sister, or parent asking people to please, make a disabled kid’s day by helping them rack up a million “Likes”, or voting for them to win some “special hero" contest they’re about as likely to win as being struck by lightning. I see stuff like this a lot on Facebook, and occasionally in emails, too. They make me feel rotten because the intent behind them is obviously good, but the neediness implied underneath is nauseating.

Then, for some reason, instead of trashing the email, I read it more closely. First I noticed a sub-headline I’d missed because the text was a sort of gray color instead of black. It reads:
"Petitioning Warby Parker"
Now, because I listen to a few hipster podcasts, I know that Warby Parker is an Internet-based mail-order company that sells glasses. Apparently, you fill out a style preference questionnaire online and they send you several pairs of actual glasses of different styles for you to try on at home. You keep the one you like and send the others back. And of course, they’re all meant to be absolutely in style, especially, I’m guessing, for millennials and hipsters of all ages.

Icon drawing of a petitionSo, now I’m intrigued.

I read on, and discover that this is a petition to get Warby Parker to offer some more in-style frames that fit some of the unique face-nose-ear shapes and sizes common to people with Down Syndrome. The creator of the campaign, Bre Whitehead, appears to be the sister of a young man with Down Syndrome who she says, "has a killer fashion sense, and likes to be on trend.” He can’t get cool looking glasses though because none of those designs as currently offered work for his smallish ears and nose bridge.

Having a body that doesn’t match up well with clothes I’d like to wear is familiar to me. So, I’m sold. This is brilliant and amazing and here is why:

- If the petition succeeds, this will make Andrew (the brother, not me) feel special, but in a way that is very specific to his personality, not in some generic or essentially meaningless way, like a million “Likes” or a pizza party or something.

- The petition also calls attention to a very specific, probably not well-known, but really meaningful barrier to the general happiness and freedom of expression of people with a certain kind of disability. Assuming what the sister is saying is more or less true, an entire group of people being stuck with ugly specs is a big deal, especially when they, especially benefit from standing out visually in unique and expressive ways.

- Because we’re talking about cool glasses and not food, clothing, shelter, or healthcare, there’s probably nobody else even thinking about addressing this issue.

- The petition targets a company that can do something about it … if it’s possible to do so … and one that professes to exist partly to be altruistic.

- Andrew will feel special, and so will other people with Down Syndrome, because they will have more choices than before. Choice is something a lot of disabled people don’t have, because we need a thing, but they only make one kind of that thing that will work for us, if we are lucky.

- Finally, I love that Ms. Whitehead isn’t asking for something just for her brother. She’s linking what he needs with what a lot of other people like him probably need (and want!), and aiming for a systemic solution, not an individual gesture of charity.

The reason I am making such a big deal out of this is that because i first mistook this email for a syrupy disability beg, and then realized it was sort of the opposite, it helped me think about the difference between the two approaches people take towards “helping” disabled people. From a distance, people might not see the difference. But it’s night and day to me.

I’ve signed the petition, and so should you.