Empathy: the antidote to -ism

Blog Against Disablism Logo colored 2011
Blog Against Disablism Day 2011

Today is Blog Against Disablism Day for 2011.  I could write about one or another of the interesting books, articles, videos, poems, paintings and more that I’m seeing as I prepare for a fall seminar on people with disabilities.  But instead, I’m sharing a video that is not specifically about disability.  It’s about the sociological imagination.

Sam Richards is a sociologist from Penn State; he has been labelled “one of the 101 most dangerous academics in America.” Hundreds of students take his course on race relations every year.  His premise is the same: the heart of sociology is empathy, a personal experience of the sociological imagination.  Giving up the myth of objectivity, Richards tells us that we can’t understand all sorts of movements and actions of societies and people unless we do the uncomfortable – frightening – work of really understanding their world.

He doesn’t stick with the comfortable topics, either.  In this video, he asks us to try to radically understand the world of Iraqi terrorists.

Why choose this video for Blog Against Disablism Day?  Many people are just as reluctant or frightened to bridge the us-them chasm separating people who do and do not currently have a disability as to consider the world view of a terrorist.  Yet this chasm separates us from our neighbors, our co-workers, even our family members. Richards’ empathic is not just an academic approach – it is a step against the -isms that divide us; against disablism.


  1. Sister Edith,

    There is a great website called dotSub, where you can caption any video you have access to (videos from youtube, your own videos you upload from your computer, etc.). You upload them onto the dotSub site (dotsub.com), and then you caption them. I am not very tech savvy, but dotSub walks you through how to do it with a tutorial, and it’s pretty straightforward.

    Also, you can make you own transcription by watching the video and describing the action and the dialogue.

    I use videos on my blog periodically. Go to my homepage and click on “videos” in the category cloud and that should take you to some that have captioned videos and transcriptions as well, for blind or deaf-blind readers.

    It is more work to caption or transcribe a video than not to, but for me it’s important. I know that I don’t post as often as I would if I didn’t make the choice to caption and transcribe videos and to provide image descriptions for photos. But I think it’s worth it.

    Actually, now that I think of it, my BADD post was about a video, so you can check out my transcription of that. It was a long video, so it was more work than usual for a youtube video. It didn’t have any dialogue, so that one doesn’t include a caption option, but other videos on my site do.

    Hope this helps.

    • Thank you for those referrals.

      When I was able to check on a full computer, I see that the video is, in fact, captioned – but they have not identified it well. In the control strip is a button that is labeled “Enable Subtitles.” When I click on that, a menu appears. If I pick “English” I get the English subtitles which match the talk of the video. I see that the original site for the video also includes a transcript (off to the right as “Interactive Transcript” at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy.html)

      I had made the assumption that an organization as big as TED would be posting with captions and/or transcripts. I’m glad to see that this is true, but sad that it’s not so easy to find. I’ll work on making that more visible in future posts.

  2. The lack of captions on this video excluded me from being able to watch it, so I’m not able to judge its quality or relevance. Is there a captioned version of this video, or at least transcript somewhere so those of us who can’t hear have an alternate means to accessing it? Thanks.

  3. This is brilliant. I love it. I studied sociology in college, with a focus on oppression issues and women’s studies. There was NOTHING about disability in the curriculum.

    I think I have learned so much more about -isms and other marginalized groups’ experiences from reading blogs by people in those groups. It’s a great lesson in empathy, over and over. Much more useful than all the courses I took in college.

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