The Ableism of Internet Map Directions

For most of us, it is easy to get transit directions to get from Point A to Point B. You just go onto Google Maps (or maybe Bing or Yahoo Maps), type your starting point, type your destination point, and get directions from there. It seems simple enough.

Simple enough for able-bodied people.

If you are wheelchair-bound, or told by your doctor or your own body to try avoiding stairs, obtaining directions are not that simple for one reason—to my knowledge, not a single internet map provider gives people an opportunity to select wheelchair-friendly directions.

The problem is especially noticeable in my hometown of New York City, where the subway system is so unfriendly to wheelchairs that it is in the midst of lawsuits right now. Given the lack of wheelchair access with the subways in New York, and with transit in many parts of the world, there is a severe need for wheelchair-friendly directions.

Yet, not a single internet map provider gives you the opportunity to plan out wheelchair-friendly directions. Google Maps may allow you to switch directions depending on whether you prefer the subway, the bus, fewer transfers, less walking, etc., but it does not allow you to switch directions depending on whether you need to avoid using stairs. Bing provides you fewer options than Google and fails to show wheelchair-friendly directions. Yahoo provides fewer options yet than Google and Bing, and Mapquest (AOL’s internet map service) does not seem like something you use if you need mass transit directions. Regardless of options, none of these internet map providers do the job of giving people wheelchair-friendly directions.

So if you can’t use stairs but want to make a day trip to the American Museum of Natural History, for example, you will find that all map providers are useless because of the lack of wheelchair-friendly directions. That is because the subway station for the museum lacks wheelchair accessibility, and there is nothing on any internet map provider which tells you that. Hopefully, people who suddenly lose the ability to use stairs will realize the uselessness of these internet map directions before starting out on their journeys.

Wheelchair Access Google
Google Maps lets you know whether you want the “best route,” “fewer transfers,” or “less walking,” but there is no option for “wheelchair accessible.” This picture was taken by me.

Between a lack of wheelchair-friendly transit (both mass transit and walking), and map providers such as Google and Bing failing to provide you with wheelchair-friendly transit directions, the result is that someone who desperately needs to avoid stairs will need to look hard for directions, and look much harder than able-bodied people like me.

The lack of wheelchair-accessible directions is an injustice, and an injustice I was blind to until recently. Yet, all it takes is something like a broken leg or a car crash that paralyzes part of your body, and suddenly you need to rely on wheelchair-friendly directions. If such an unfortunate event ever happens to you, you will not be able to rely on internet map providers for your transit directions. You will need to figure out directions through other means because internet maps, like so many other things, are made for an ableist world.

The Problems with “Racial Colorblindness”

Maybe there is an irony that my first serious post with “Blind Injustice” has the word “colorblind” in the title.

Though when we think about what it means to be racially colorblind, and how racial colorblindness is an oft-discussed topic, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Colorblind ideology seems good to some, on the surface. It was an especially appealing idea to me a few years ago because it seemed to reflect the idea that, if we ignore racial differences, we would no longer treat people with other skin colors differently.

However, through friends, life experiences, and reading over the past few years, I noticed some problems with racial colorblindness that all of us should be aware of:

  1. Being colorblind means that we are blind to how people are created. People are created with various skin colors, and denying that through racial colorblindness does not seem like a way of acknowledging, let alone giving glory to, the way each of us were created.
  2. If we take pride in colorblindness, then we will not be taking pride in the diversity of ways we were all created. It is pretty awesome that the skin of human beings was created in so many different ways! Through racial colorblindness, we would not appreciate the diversity of ways in which we were created.
  3. Colorblindness means that we don’t see ourselves and others for who we are. Skin color is a part of who every one of us is, so saying that we don’t see color means that we don’t see ourselves and others for who we are. In other words, the phrase of “I don’t see color…I just see people” is not really accurate because by not seeing color, we’re not seeing the complete person. Such views can actually be hurtful to ourselves and others, even if our intentions were ones of nondiscrimination.
  4. Colorblindness also means that we are blind to how skin color has a factor in what happens around us. In particular, colorblindness can help us ignore the critical role that skin color plays in injustices such as police brutality, housing, economic inequality, inequality of public services, and more. Consequently, colorblindness keeps us from getting to the root of many problems, let alone solving the problems (and in the process keeping forms of racial injustice alive and well).
  5. Colorblindness also blinds us to the ways that we might discriminate against people with different skin colors. I know this point goes contrary to the thinking that being blind to skin color is the way to treat all people equally. I also know that this point will lead people to the “But I’m not racist!” reaction. However, the messy truth is that if we remove our own defensiveness and colorblindness, maybe we’d find ways that skin color plays a role in how some of us might contribute to school segregation (yes, modern-day school segregation exists), housing inequality, financial inequality, racial stereotypes, or some other form of racial injustice.

This is admittedly not a perfect or complete list. However, this list shows how colorblindness takes away from the beauties of having different skin colors, and at the same time fails to acknowledge the role that skin color plays in the challenges we face.

By removing colorblindness, we can appreciate people for how we were created, hopefully embrace the diversity of ways we were created, and recognize the problems that exist because people with different skin color are still treated in different ways. This removal of colorblindness may not solve all our problems with racial injustice, but hopefully it can at least make us aware of the root of racial problems.

Introduction

Before beginning to blog, I want to introduce myself, as well as my blog and my hopes for this blog.

I am Brendan Birth, a recent college graduate who is pursuing a career in advocacy. While much of my advocacy is in ageism, I am also passionate about other forms of discrimination and injustice. In my spare time, I like to serve my home church, track major snowstorms and hurricanes, closely follow multiple sports, and make lots of puns.

For years, I have been passionate about a number of injustices—racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and more. I have cared about issues like these for years, but I became even more passionate after I went on a spring break service trip with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Spring 2015 in the Anacostia section of Washington, DC.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I still care deeply about injustices like the ones I mentioned above. What has changed is my view on how injustice looks like.

I used to believe that injustice was committed by a select few people such as those in the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan. But now I realize that injustice is within and around so many of us, myself included. Furthermore, many of us, myself included, remain blind to the injustices we commit ourselves or see around us until someone else points out the injustices to us.

This blog is an attempt to start eliminating the blindness that many of us have to the racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and other injustices within or around so many of us. Through blog posts which candidly talk about the injustices I see, my hope is that I can make others aware of the injustices within and around them too.

Happy reading!