cover image Touch the Future: A Manifesto in Essays

Touch the Future: A Manifesto in Essays

John Lee Clark. Norton, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-1-324-03536-7

DeafBlind poet Clark (How to Communicate) serves up passionate meditations on the DeafBlind Protactile movement—which he suggests is characterized by a focus on establishing greater autonomy for DeafBlind people and “throw[ing] out many norms and values imposed by sighted society,” such as taboos against touching others. In “Always Be Connected,” Clark traces the movement’s origins to a 2007 shortage of sighted ASL interpreters in Seattle that prompted DeafBlind community leaders to hold meetings without them, organically producing new means of communication. Clark notes that ASL posed difficulties for DeafBlind people, who would listen by placing their hands over a speaker’s hands as they signed despite only 30% of ASL being decipherable by touch, so when the Seattle DeafBlind community decided to forge ahead without interpreters, they developed an ASL offshoot, called Protactile, that uses intricate systems of touch to communicate. Clark’s bracing perspectives are sure to stimulate, as in “Against Access,” where he argues that many so-called accessibility measures aim to replicate the experience of sighted people at the expense of usability, such as video transcripts that open with overly detailed image descriptions, which, for Clark, only serve as obstacles to reading the more substantial parts of the video. Lucid and incisive, this is not to be missed. (Oct.)