A long time ago I volunteered at a conference for Deaf/Blind participants held at Gallaudet University. It was a lot of fun. There were daily challenges to keep up with the participants who wanted to go everywhere and do everything. I was joyfully run ragged. I have one specific memory, a lesson that sticks with me to this day on expanding thinking beyond myself.
I was assigned to interpret for a senior gentleman who had very limited vision and was deaf. We communicated by finger spelling or he would place his hand lightly on mine and I would sign what I needed to communicate. One day we had a trip to the Smithsonian Air and Science Museum. My guy was thrilled, he loved airplanes and rockets. He wanted to purchase something that he could take home and review.
In my mind I wasn’t sure if that was possible. There were plenty of books but he couldn’t read them. He couldn’t see the type. Maybe a poster. Or a toy plane except they seem to be the kind you had to assemble. I could see that he had his heart set on it but I didn’t know what to do. I kept trying to come up with the answer.
Finally we went to the gift shop. I asked if they had anything about World War 2 planes or aircraft in general for my guy. The woman thought about it for a little bit and then came back with a coloring book. I’m thinking to myself; “Is she crazy? He’s seventy something years old. Why is she showing him a coloring book?”
The woman opened the coloring book and the man lit up. He could see the thick black outlines of the planes. He recognized the different types of airships. The gentleman purchase that coloring book and a few more besides.
I felt like a fool. I was so busy trying to solve a problem I wasn’t open to seeing solutions. I certainly was vested in finding my solution for his problem. That is not the same as finding a solution.
Actually the gentleman didn’t have a problem. He just needed materials that fit his level of perception. I was the one that had a problem.
A Work In Progress
It does happen. Our egos, our world view shaped by our experiences does get in the way of allowing an answer or a solution to come forward. The Women in Philosophy blog writes about just how strong that bias can be:
It is by now extremely well-established that human beings are prone to unconscious biases that play a significant role in how we evaluate people, how we evaluate their work, and how we interact with them. Sometimes these effects are individually small but cumulatively they can have an enormous impact which serves to disadvantage members of certain groups such as women, racial and religious minorities and disabled people– to name just a few.
I have certainly seen elements of similar bias when I read about a tech conference that has almost an all male panel because they could not find women who are peers. Or when I see a list of the 100 best blogs and 3 of the best are women.
As I was reading the Philosophy post it reminded me of when I go to a technology blog. I generally don’t look at the gender of the writer unless it is brought to my attention. Any mention of half naked women is a good tip off that the blog might be written by a guy or for guys.
I really had to change some perceptions when I found Darlene and Science Cheerleader. This is Darlene’s vision of having a place where citizen scientists can gather and facilitate discussions in science, media and public policy. Oh, yeah and a side order of science literacy too.
It is that open perception thing. If you don’t know or your experience tells you that isn’t possible, you won’t see or find women in business, technology or science or recognize the ideas that women can bring forth. All I can tell you is start with yourself and work your way out.
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