You’re dragging this misery on

23 09 2013

Slate‘s layout has long been terrible, as in:

  • crowded in appearance
  • a constantly metastasizing number of specialty sections
  • an “older” button which actually required more than one hit to get to the not-on-the-front-page entries (a problem exacerbated by a lousy search function
  • non-obvious archive retrieval system (although, to be honest, I could be misremembering this)

So, finally, they’ve changed it. Yay!

Do I like it? Nay!

One the one hand, you should disregard my dislike, because I dislike any changes made to a design to which I’ve become accustomed. (You thought I was joking about my temperamental conservatism? I was not.) Disqus has changed its style a number of times and each time I’ve hated it.

And then I’ve gotten used to it. I expect to get used to the Slate re-design.

(Then again, I still dislike the re-design of the Atlantic blogs, and that’s been awhile. Still, my own history suggests I’ll come to terms with, and perhaps even like, the New! Improved! Slate layout.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, however, Slate has still not fixed the incredibly fucking annoyingly awful “read more” function which, unlike similar functions at The Daily Dish and The Slog, takes the reader away from the main or index page and to the single post, which in turn requires one go back to that index page before one can go on to the next story.

I know, I know: this is not a problem on the order of an asteroid strike or the extinction of the coffee bean, but given how incredibly fucking annoyingly awful the single-post “read more” function is, and how the solution—an unfolding “read more” function—is a thing which exists in the world, why couldn’t Slate have done the one goddamned thing that I and every other reader of their site would have instantly and unreservedly hailed?

Or is the retention of that incredibly fucking annoyingly awful single-post “read more” function simply a kind of #Slatepitch, wherein they choose to do the one thing that everyone agrees is terrible?


Can you hear me

7 05 2013

I blew my students’ minds today.

No, not anything brilliant on my part: I brought up an issue in my bioethics course that I’ve mentioned in previous courses—had thought I’d mentioned previously in this course—and a number of them lost it.

I told them that there were deaf people who didn’t think there was anything wrong with being deaf, and furthermore, they’d like you to keep your cochlear implants and whatnot to yourselves, thankyouverymuch.

That did not compute.

Now, the backdrop for this moment of brain splatter was a discussion of social coercion, normalization, enhancement, disability, and morality (among other things). Somewhere in this discussion I noted that devices which are promoted as aiding the disabled might be more about assuaging the discomforts of the non-disabled. This was one of Anita Silver’s points in her essay “A Fatal Attraction to Normalizing” (in Enhancing Human Traits, ed. by Erik Parens), as exemplified by the decision of the Canadian government to push children affected by thalidomide into prostheses and forbidding them to roll or crawl. “The direction of resources to fund artificial limb design and manufacture rather than wheelchair design was influenced by the supposition that walking makes people more socially acceptable than wheeling does.”

A number of them did not like where I was going with this. So how far do we go to accommodate those people, they said. If we’re the majority, shouldn’t they, you know, have to adapt? Are we just supposed to design everything around them?

One of them even complained about ramps: Why should I have to go around and around if I just want to take the stairs?

I pointed out that ramps rarely replace stairs, but are instead treated as an addition, meaning that the stairs remained. I also noted that crappy design is bad for everyone. The building in which the class is held, Carman Hall, is a terribly designed building—you have to go down a flight of steps just to enter the building—and suggested that it’s just possible that being forced to think about accessibility for, say, wheelchair users might just lead to designs which are good for everyone. Curb cuts, I noted, are useful for those pushing strollers or, say, 3 weeks worth of laundry in a cart.

Besides, I noted, at some point we’re all, if we’re lucky, going to get old and frail, so designing for access is, in effect, designing for everyone.

In any case, my mind was a little blown by their sense that accommodating people who came in a model unlike themselves was unfair.

Okay, now back to their shorted neural circuits. Deafness, I noted, is a condition, and some who are deaf are also a part of the Deaf community. These Deaf members see themselves as distinct, not disabled, and their community as worth preserving; as such, they see cochlear implants as a way of eliminating members of that community. Furthermore, since cochlear implants are imperfect, not only will these deaf people not gain the full range of sound as hearing people, they will never gain full status as hearing people: they will also be lesser “normals” than full and “normally” Deaf.

But why would they want to be deaf? they asked. Doesn’t that limit them? Why wouldn’t they want cochlear implants?

Well, I noted, we’re all hearing in our class, so if we lost our hearing we would, in fact, experience it as a loss. But while we might be able to see only the limitations of deafness, they see other capacities enabled by it.

They were dubious. What about contacts, one of the students asked. I’d be blind without my contacts. J., I said, you would not be blind, you would simply have bad sight, which is more akin to being hard of hearing than being deaf.

(That said, it was a provocative question: is their a Blind community akin to the Deaf community? And what would be the implications of that? What are the implications of a lack of a Blind community?)

I’m used to students gasping a bit at the thought that Deaf people might not have a problem with their own deafness, but I can usually get them to consider that the problem with deafness is the problem that hearing people have with deafness. No, I’m trying to force them to accept the Deaf argument—I’m not quite sure what to make of it myself—but I do want to crowbar them out of their own defaults, their own unthinking attachments to normal.

There are streams within bioethics which maintain their own unthinking attachments to normal, as well as those who prefer to poke a stick into the concept. I’m more in the latter camp (big surprise), but as I think normalizing is impossible to avoid, my approach is simply to unsettle, and be unsettled by, the normal, and go from there.

The students weren’t so much unsettled as shocked, and given that shocking can lead to reaction rather than reflection, I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that they held ever tighter to their own normality.