Want to Highlight the Cause of an Injustice? Write in the Active Voice.
In a recent Medium post, my friend Emma Barnes suggested a crucial reframe for making accessibility requests: instead of locating the problem within yourself (or within your disability), phrase your request in a way that draws attention to the inaccessibility of your environment.
For example, instead of saying that you are sensitive to fragrances and can’t share an office with a coworker who’s dripping with Drakkar Noir, simply state that a fragrance-heavy environment disables you.
“Your Expectations Are Disabling”
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A reframe like this draws attention to the active party involved. Your sensory system has not done anything wrong or out of the ordinary; it’s just behaved the way that it always does. You as the disabled person don’t need to change. It’s your coworker’s penchant for oakmoss-heavy cologne that is artificial and unnecessary, and your workplace’s lack of ventilation that can be improved.
By switching away from the passive voice — “I am sensitive to fragrances” and into the active one — “This environment disables me,” the true roots of the problem have been laid bare. Actively-voiced writing often clarifies who holds responsibility for an issue. This doesn’t just apply to requests for greater workplace accessibility, either; it also works fantastically when describing oppressive systems and their consequences.
Take for example the usual way that powerful institutions celebrate themselves for finally putting a marginalized person in a high-status role. Typically big “representation” wins get framed like this: “Leyna Bloom is the first trans woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” “Reggié Fils-Aimé is the first Haitian American CEO.”
Written in the passive voice, these sentences draw attention to the individuals who have received a newfound status. We don’t get any insight into how either party ascended to the position they are in, or crucially, why they are the…