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The Design of an Omelet: The Paradox of Appearance Versus Taste

As part of the coursework for Legal Problem Solving (LPS), all students contribute a post to this course blog. Students develop posts from a weekly journal entry, which also is required coursework. The purpose of journal entries is to invite deeper, personal reflection on the subject matter in LPS, reflection being a key component of content understanding and mastery. This course explores how human centered design and other creative problem solving methods and mindsets inform three areas: (1) the delivery of legal services, (2) how we solve clients' (legal) problems, and (3) how law students can intentionally shape their professional journeys. Each student post will touch on one or more of these three areas.

This LPS post is by Vee Basukala,Vanderbilt Law School class of 2019.

I am blind! Although, comparatively I am “less blind” now than how blind I use to be, I am still a blind individual. Regardless, I am not blinded by the fact that I have used the word “blind” – or a variation of said word – six times within these first two and a half sentences. However, I think I have a somewhat logical explanation(s) for my action; and that is one of the things I want to share in this blog post—with some element of “Design Thinking.” Well, at least that’s the plan. However, there is also a possibility of this blog post being a complete disaster and turning into my version of showing up in a bunny suit at a not-so costume party. After all, there are already so many similarities between me and Elle Woods. She had a dog, I have a dog; she went to law school, I am in law school; she was Legally Blonde, I am Legally Blind. See Generally Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde (2001). Does anyone see the similarities? But my apologies, I digress.

The only undisputed facts contained within this eclectic collection of words that I am trying to pass as a blog post can be found within the first two sentences. Everything else is BS (I think the proper term is “my subjective opinions”). I do not have any empirical studies or testimonies supporting these things I share in this blog post. They are, almost exclusively based on my subjective experiences, as well as my arguably baseless interpretations of various situations and interactions I have had in my life. I might be imagining about the existence of these things; they may just exist inside my head – far away from the reality – but again, why on earth should that mean that it is not real? See J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 723-24 (1st ed. 2007) (quoting Dumbledore, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”).

So, let’s get into “these things” I have been talking about for past two paragraphs. To be honest, I’m also not quite sure what “these things” are; it all kind of make sense in my head, but I’m having a tough time articulating those thoughts in words. I think “these things” can be traced back to 2012/13. I had been in the United States of America for three years at that point. I was a Freshman in college and blind as a bat without the ability to echolocate. I didn’t realize until this semester, but a variation of human centric design process was about to enter my world and do its thing.

“Have you heard that saying ‘you should not poke a sleeping lion?’” | “Ya, sure.” | “so that lion here is your eyes. It’s currently stable; it’s not bothering you, it’s not causing you any pain, and you seem to be doing just fine without your vision.” | “Umm, okay…” | “If we try to do anything to try to improve your vision, it will be like poking that sleeping lion. Although, there is a possibility that the lion might be a life-like, realistic looking, harmless stuffed toy—but that is a small possibility. So, my professional suggestion would be leaving the lion alone.” ​

I had heard a few different versions of that same suggestion from other ophthalmologists in past. Most of them told me it wasn’t worth the risk to try to do something to improve my vision , because the amount of vision I could gain at most would still be nowhere close to 20-20. However, unlike in previous instances, the doctor this time didn’t end our appointment there; rather, she asked for my thoughts about the whole situation.

“if you think this is something that would be functionally beneficial for you, then we can go against my suggestion and start gently poking that lion. I just know the medical probabilities of going through these procedures – and there will be a number of them – but you’re the best judge of how much these medical probabilities should weigh in your decision.”​​

She wanted me to consider the medical probabilities as a part of an overall cost-benefit analysis for me and my specific circumstance.

My vision might not be 20-20, but hindsight is; so, I am wondering if it was wise of my ophthalmologist to let an 18-year-old teenager make that kind of decision? However, the relevant point is she didn’t assume what was right for me; she didn’t assume how much vision gain for me would be worth the risk; rather, she gave me an opportunity to consider her professional advice in light to my personal circumstances. She didn’t speculate, rather she empathized. Spoiler alert, I decided to go through with the procedures.

After we decided to move forward, she and I sat down and planned our short-term, as well as our long-term game plan. She also brought in a couple of other ophthalmologists from different specialties to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Long story short, after almost five years, I had my second to last surgery this past August. The last one is scheduled for December 22, 2017.

Did everything go as we originally planned and anticipated? Absolutely not. The lion wasn’t quite the harmless stuffed toy we would have liked; however, fortunately for us, the lion in this instant analogy turned out to be more like Simba rather than Scar. Thus, it didn’t react too aggressively when my ophthalmologists began “poking” around. Nevertheless, did my vision improve? Yes, significantly in comparison to what it used to be – but miniscule in comparison to statistically average human vision. Did it make a difference in my daily life? Yes, most definitely. Do I think it was worth the risk? Yes, without a doubt. Did it make my life better than it used to be? Probably, but not in a way most people tend to assume. And that is precisely the “these things” I want to share in – through – this post.

I will be channeling my inner Trump for rest of this post (let’s face it, we all have one). Consequently, I will be generalizing and stereotyping groups of people; making baseless and sweeping statements; and exaggerating (but not fabricating) some of the facts to try to get my point across.

To illustrate “these things,” I want to divide people ​in two distinct groups. The first group consists of people without any physical or mental disabilities. Let’s call this group the “designers.” The second group consists of people with some type of disability. Let’s call this group the “consumers.”

As a consumer myself, I have noticed some common and consistent pattern among most of the designers when they encounter a consumer. These designers seem to believe that the consumers are somehow disadvantaged; they believe that consumers are unhappy or unsatisfied with their lives , because they are “consumers.” If only these designers attempt to empathize, rather than just sympathize with the consumers, then perhaps they would learn that most consumers are completely content with their lives. In fact, these designers seem to be more aware, concerned, and impacted by a consumer’s consumerism than the consumer themselves.

One of the things that infuriates most consumers is when a designer looks at a consumer who is happily living their life without complaining about their consumerism, and think “Oh my life could be so bad and if that consumer can make their life happy, then I have no excuse to be sad and complain about my life.” These designers use the consumers as their “inspiration porn.” Why “porn?” Because, it is a form of objectification of one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. See generally Stella Young, We're not here for your inspiration, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2012) (stating that although not with bad intentions, these attitudes, comments, and perceptions are dehumanizing. Disabled people do not exist to inspire the non-disabled.)

One might wonder why did I use the words “designers” and “consumers” instead of “non-disabled” and “disabled” to talk about these two groups of people? That’s the Socratic portion of this column—you’ve to figure it out yourself.

I want to go back to 2012-13 and talk about a cringe-worthy incident that occurred before I began those series of eye surgeries. I was a freshman in college. I was sitting in the cafeteria and eating lunch with some of my friends and some acquaintances. We were having random lunch table conversations such as things like Aladdin, his magical lamp, and his Genie (we were freshmen; don’t judge us). There were some interesting conversations going on. We ended up talking about what would happen if a Genie appeared and granted one of our wishes. We went around the table and everyone shared something that they would wish for. When it came my turn to share my wish, a person sitting right beside me, very eagerly answered for me! She said, “It’s obvious his first wish would be his vision!” I was startled with that statement of hers, but not surprised. Incidents and events like these still constantly remind me that most people think that being disabled is one of the worst things that could happen to somebody.

I have had people come up to me way too often and say, “You’re so brave” or “you’re so inspiring.” However, rarely do these people know me, or anything about my life, other than the fact that I am blind—and perhaps that I have an unnaturally cute dog. I’ve had at least two individuals since 2012 who have told me “I’d probably kill myself if I had to be in your shoes; it is amazing what you’re doing.”

What ​I am doing? You mean how I’m able to get to point A from point B without dying; or do you mean how I can put food in my mouth rather than in my ears or nose; or how I can put toothpaste rather than facewash on my toothbrush and brush my teeth (never mind, I’ve done that once). I guess the point I’m trying to make is that besides being amazingly blind, I was and am doing nothing amazing or exceptional. I think in situation like these, it would be exceptionally amazing if people empathize, rather than sympathize, then maybe we could move to the next step towards designing a truly inclusive society. A society where disability is viewed simply as a part of an individual’s identity, rather than an individual’s most descriptive and dominating feature. A society where people are not “blinded” by an individual’s disability that they fail to see an individual’s individuality.

Five years ago, when my ophthalmologist asked me if I thought it was worth going through the procedures, I was less driven by the desire to be able to see—rather, I wanted to know what was all the hype about being able to see; why these people seem so obsessed ​about it; and why some people are willing to “kill” themselves rather than being not able to see. I guess I didn’t realized until recently, but I was trying to empathize with those people.

Finally, let’s talk about the omelet. Omelets used to be one of my favorite culinary inventions. Shout out to Napoleon for helping omelets achieve the global recognitions it deserved—at least that’s what I thought. By the mid-2013, the doctors were done performing some of the initial procedures on my eyes. As a result, I had already gained some vision in my left eye. Although it was an exciting development in my life, my newly found vision inadvertently caused my love for omelets turn into pure hatred. It looked so bad! It was yellow, shiny, and some of its inside contents were protruding out. I know I said I was going to exaggerate some of the facts, but this is not one of them. It wasn’t you, my dear omelet(s), it was all me. The reason I’m sharing the story of my tragic breakup with Omelet(s) has to do with one of the guest lectures we had in our LPS class. The lecture was about the importance of the design of legal documents—or any documents for that matter.

The bottom line of the lecture, at least the way I interpreted, was that a document with useful content but bad design, such as weird formatting or inappropriate font, can ruin the effectiveness of the document. Similarly, an omelet that probably tastes as good now as it used to taste before I gained some vision, is no longer as appealing to me, because of its design—because of how it appears to me. Prior to gaining some vision, I had no choice but to judged something or someone by their character and ability—and not by how they look and appear. In fact, I used to judge people who judged someone or something because of how they appeared. However, it seems like I’m now turning into one of those people myself, even with my comparatively limited vision?

Nevertheless, that’s a topic for me and my therapist to discuss during our sessions.

I was not trying to be funny when I called this post “eclectic.” I literally and figuratively started writing this post blind; I wasn’t quite sure how, what, and where I wanted to go with it. I hope it makes some sense—and if it doesn’t, remember that I’m still a “poor helpless” blind guy, so cut me some ​SLACK!

P.S. I completely forgot to talk about why I used so many “blind, blind, blind, and blind” at the beginning of this post. It was an exaggerated attempt to illustrate a social experiment I’ve been running on people around me. By talking about my blindness up front; by voluntarily bringing it up in conversations; and by badgering people with my consistent and mostly crappy blind “jokes,” I’m trying to insinuate that I don’t view my “blindness” as a taboo. I’m totally fine with my blindness; I’m totally fine to talk about my blindness; and in some situations, I’m totally fine taking advantage of my blindness. Does it work? More often than I had anticipated. However, it doesn’t work on some people, and that’s fine. I’m genuinely sorry that those people feel sorry for me; but should I also feel sorry for taking advantage of those people?

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