Monday, April 20, 2015

Daredevil is Blind

Foggy Nelson: "A blind old man taught you the ancient ways of martial arts. Isn't that the plot to Kung Fu?" (Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, Episode 10)
I've got a review of "Scenes of ordinary disability" in Daredevil coming out later today from Vice. Edit - Link is here!!

In today's blog, I want to say a few more things about the nature of Matt Murdock/Daredevil's disability. Yes, thanks to his heightened senses, he can create a full map of his space in real time, helping him with Kung-Fu, knowing if people are nodding or flicking him off, and otherwise navigating the world just fine. He's a superhero. He can do things that real humans, blind or not, cannot do. In the show, it's his hearing that gets the most play - he tracks a car based on the music inside it while running over the rooftops of Hell's Kitchen. He hears Kingpin talking on a radio inside a truck from some distance away. These are cool superpowers!

But what he can't do is read a license plate.
He can't read a digital alarm clock.
He can't read a message printed on his cell phone.

I emphasize this because I think it's easy to miss the ways in which Murdock is in disabled. And if you miss that, you also miss the ways in which he's got little bits of assistive technology that help.

He uses a refreshable Braille display.

Image: Refreshable Braille display. From Wikimedia Commons
He uses a screen reader (a program that reads words on computer screens as well as provides other kinds of command information. It's why I put descriptions of images on my page, as I know I have some blind readers. And honestly, all websites should do it all the time).

His cell phone talks to him. "Karen calling. Karen calling." His alarm clock talks to him. "It's 7 o'clock."

These are just small little bits of assistive technology that make independent living more possible for blind people.

And so while Murdock is a superhero, he's still blind. He still has a disability.

And that's why how Marvel/Netflix represents his blindness matters so much to me and to so many people in the disability community, because however you count it, he's one of the two or three most prominent disabled characters in comics history (Professor X - his legs, not his mutant powers, Daredevil, and Oracle/Batgirl).

Previous item: Comics, Disability, and Race.

Edit: Updated to correct assistive tech terminology.

5 comments:

Adam Strong-Morse said...

I was really struck by a moment where in an early episode (5, I think?), Daredevil hands a cell phone he's taken from a bad guy to Claire, who is flipping through it. I had a moment of "why is he having her tell him what's on the phone?" before I realized the obvious answer--he can't page through the address book or read the text messages. And that's still a very ordinary moment of Daredevil being blind--exactly the sort of situation that the adaptive technology he uses for his own devices responds to.

David Perry said...

Right! I actually had missed that detail in that scene, but you're totally right.

Christine said...

Thank you! I have been running a Daredevil website for over seven years and been nagging people about this for just as long in many of my posts.

His heightened senses do not in any way compensate fully for his blindness and this needs to be pointed out at regular intervals since so many fans complete fail to understand this. I'm happy to say that the depiction of assistive technology has been improving in the comics as well. In my individual reviews of each episode of the Netflix series (only one up so far), I'm making a point of mentioning various cool gadgets whenever they appear.

David Perry said...

Oh, I'm so glad you found this page. I link to your site in my VICE piece coming out later today. It's outstanding.

aelarsen said...

The issue of Daredevil's blindness has definitely been an issue in the comic series for a long time. I recall one moment back in the 1980s when he has to trick someone into reading off a computer screen for him, because there's important evidence on it that he can't see. I'm not sure it was a serious point about disability so much as a way to remind the reader that the character is blind, but it still made the point that his power don't completely compensate for his disability.