Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why the media cover "firsts"

The Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) magazine, HR Magazine, wrote an interesting article about the intersection of diversity and politics with the rise of David Paterson, who is legally blind and African American, to governor of NY.

Also covered was how advocates for different diversity groups have to play along with the rhetoric of "firsts" to get their message into the media.

Carl Augusto, president of the American Foundation for the Blind, has been all over the news in the past seven days talking about what it means to the blindness community to have a blind NY governor.

“Eventually there will be so many different types of people who will ascend the political or corporate ladder that people won’t even notice these kinds of firsts,” Augusto told SHRM Online.
"As for AFB’s choice to laud Paterson as a blind leader, Augusto says it provides his organization with an opportunity to shatter myths and stereotypes about blindness."

“The biggest problem with blindness is not the blindness itself or the functional limitations, it is societal reactions, the myths, the pity, the superman or beggar perception,” he said in the article, noting that he experiences such reactions himself “as a blind person who uses a cane.”

“Eventually the fact that [Paterson is] blind and black won’t make a difference,” Augusto says. “There are some people who will be motivated and inspired by his example.”

"Augusto hopes Paterson’s powerful and visible role will cause employers to take a closer look at applicants who are blind or visually impaired rather than 'finding a way to reject them,'" according to SHRM online.