Using Tech to Help With a Disability Isn't Cheating

Stigma may remain for issues that aren't visible, writer says, especially among politicians
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 13, 2022 6:25 PM CDT
Using Tech to Help With a Disability Isn't Cheating
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks during a campaign event in York on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

The nation generally tries to accommodate Americans with disabilities—just as the law says. Some measures, often involving technology, make it possible for people to do their job, or enter a building. But that principle was steamrolled during an NBC News interview last week with Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for US Senate, who had a stroke in May. During the interview, David Perry writes in an opinion piece in the New York Times, Fetterman used a captioning system on a computer screen to help him with auditory processing, as he has since the stroke. The reporter, Dasha Burns, then introduced the clip by saying, "In small talk before the interview without captioning, it wasn't clear he was understanding our conversation."

"With that one statement," Perry writes, "Ms. Burns shifted the conversation away from a necessary adaptation to implying that NBC was doing Mr. Fetterman a favor by using captioning and that it was a problem for the candidate that he needed technology to reliably converse." The implication was that some kinds of accommodation aren't legitimate, Perry says, wondering if Burns would say something similar about a person who uses a wheelchair to get around, or someone who needs reading glasses to comprehend written words. Politicians' visible disabilities may have lost their stigma, but possibly not unseen ones, including mental health issues. Technology can help more people do their jobs, the writer says, if we can lose certain biases and let it. "I can read this essay because I put on my glasses," Perry says. "Just as John Fetterman can be a senator if he has access to captioning." (Read the full essay here.)

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