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Kamala Harris's Use of Visual Descriptions Should Be Celebrated — Not Attacked

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Vice President Kamala Harris broke new ground for accessibility when she used a visual description in a White House roundtable meeting with multiple disability advocates. The meeting, which occurred on Tuesday, July 26, was held to commemorate the thirty-second anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act

A now-viral clip of the event shows Harris describing her appearance in order to make the roundtable more accessible to those who are blind or have visual impairments. 

“I am Kamala Harris, my pronouns are she and her, and I am a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit,” the vice president explained.

Some political leaders — including members of Congress — have mocked Harris for her decision to kick off the roundtable meeting with a visual description of herself. However, visual descriptions can help both blind and visually impaired people feel more in tune with their surroundings and pick up relevant environmental cues. Using these descriptions in an important meeting revolving around issues affecting the disability community could help participants feel welcomed and included in a way they may not in everyday life.

The National Federation of the Blind has not taken a firm stance on the use of visual descriptions as an accessibility tool, but Chris Danielson, a spokesperson for the organization, says the use of visual descriptions is complex. According to Danielson, some blind people welcome the use of visual descriptions, while others believe the practice detracts from creating accessible presentation materials for meetings and isn’t necessarily an accommodation the blind community requests. “It kind of seems to some of us like one of those things that sighted people have decided to do, but it’s not necessarily something we said would be helpful,” Danielson elaborated.

Anil Lewis, the executive director of blindness initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind, has a slightly different take on the use of visual descriptions. Lewis said that while not all members of the blind and visually impaired community fully support the use of visual descriptions, including a description is “useful for those who want it, while those who don’t can ignore it.”

Regardless, Harris shouldn’t be attacked for her decision to include a visual description in Tuesday’s disability roundtable meeting. “Attacking [Vice President Harris for using visual descriptions] is inappropriate because the intent is at least inclusive,” Danielson concluded.

Accessibility often starts from the top down, so Kamala Harris’s decision to use visual descriptions in a meeting with disability advocates is a step in the right direction— and doesn’t deserve mockery. Hopefully, more people use Harris as an example of how to strive for inclusion and educate themselves about how to make events accessible not just to the blind community but also to the disability community as a whole.

Image via Wikipedia

Originally published: July 29, 2022
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