BlogHer '12: A Whole New Way of Thinking

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BlogHer12 Conference logo. It contains a stylized woman's head with flowing hair

Last week, I had an excellent (and educational) immersion in all things social media-related at BlogHer '12, BlogHer's 8th Annual Conference, held this year in New York City, from August 2-4. (Bonus: Whenever anyone asked where I was from, I was able to point downtown while saying, "About twenty blocks from here.")

About BlogHer for the Uninitiated

So what is BlogHer? Here's an explanation from the BlogHer website (i.e., The Mothership):

BlogHer is a community and media company created in partnership with women in social media. Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page, and Jory Des Jardins founded BlogHer in 2005 in response to the question, "Where are all the women bloggers?"

Today, BlogHer is the largest community of women who blog: 40 million unique visitors per month. Engaged, influential and info-savvy, these women come to BlogHer to seek and share advice, opinions, and recommendations. BlogHer's team works hard to bring you the best and brightest conversations, writers, and speakers – online and in person. That's what we do best.

The BlogHer '12 Conference: Getting Acquainted

First of all, I was mightily impressed with the attendance figures: 5,000 women (including male attendees, too)! Yes!

The initial "get acquainted" activity involved all 5,000 attendees and was modeled on a speed-dating exercise. Armed with business cards, we formed two huge concentric circles, facing each other, to exchange information. The outside circle was stationary and ringed the main ballroom. The people on the inside circle faced a partner in the outside ring, exchanged business cards, and spoke for five minutes before moving to the left to speak to the next person in the circle.

It was during this exercise that I formed two salient impressions: (1) There likely weren't many other disability bloggers in attendance, and (2) "blindness" was an unfamiliar concept. OK – fair enough; I understand that. But something else was happening too. As I moved leftward along my speed-dating circle, an interactive pattern began to emerge:

  • I chatted with a gardening blogger, learned more about her blog, and then said, "I blog about blindness and vision loss." I received a sad look in return, or a maybe a sympathy head tilt. I'd then say, "I write about gardening with everyday adaptations for blind gardeners, so you and I have subject matter in common." The gardening blogger seemed unconvinced.
  • I chatted with a home and lifestyle blogger, learned more about her blog, and then said, "I blog about blindness and vision loss." I received a sad look in return, or a maybe a sympathy head tilt. I'd then say, "I write about everyday home and lifestyle adaptations for blind adults, so you and I have subject matter in common." The home and lifestyle blogger seemed unconvinced.
  • I chatted with a travel blogger, learned more about her blog, and then said, "I blog about blindness and vision loss." I received a sad look in return, or a maybe a sympathy head tilt. I'd then say, "I write about travel topics for blind travel aficionados, so you and I have subject matter in common." The travel blogger seemed unconvinced.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you? I discovered a connection with every blogger I met, but those same bloggers appeared to view blindness as something foreign, removed, or alien: "the other." While I saw much in common with every interest group and blogging subject, that view of commonality wasn't necessarily reciprocated: blindness equaled otherness.

Blind bloggers and blindness professionals: We have much work to do to change that view of blindness as "the other."

Latina Advocacy Bloggers: A Kindred Constituency

In truth, I believe we have much in common with many advocacy bloggers, including the panel of outstanding Latina bloggers who presented Sin Fronteras: Advocacy Blogging across Issues and Borders:

Blogueras from North and Latin America talk about how they advocate for education, immigration, economic empowerment, and health reform issues online. What tools have been most effective to reach and focus the advocacy of Latinas online, marshaling forces when needed? How have online conversations evolved, where is influence most keenly felt now, and what's in store for online advocacy in the future? Join a conversation, including Claudia Calvin, Miriam Zoila Pérez, and Liza Sabater, with moderator Viviana Hurtado, about activating this critical constituency.

"Are we relegated to a special interest group?" they asked. "Yes we are. We are banging on the door, saying 'Let me in!' Yet other groups only have to knock softly and knock once – and they're in."

Does that sound familiar?

But there are many positive aspects of "outsider status" and social media, as the panel also noted. Much like Latina bloggers, blind bloggers are now learning to control the online conversation, talking back to agencies and challenging the way blindness and blind persons are portrayed. Agencies and institutions now have to pay attention to tweeters and bloggers who are saying, "Here we are, people!"

My Conference Takeaway

From my Twitter timeline:

  • Back from BlogHer12 this evening. Truly an excellent conference - and I don't give compliments liberally or easily. Bravo!
  • Breaking through into public consciousness is like "breaking through the fourth wall" in theater.
  • What BlogHer12 has made me think about is how to broaden my reading audience and minimize the concept of blindness as "the other."

We all have much work to do. And blind bloggers: Consider presenting at BlogHer next year. As I like to say,

…the VisionAware "blind bloggers" collective has migrated from the former VisionAware.org website to the sidebar of the new VisionAware blog. It's a marvelous way to position my favorite bloggers front-and-center for our ever-growing audience. You'll discover great writing there – and not only about blindness. My favorite bloggers are people who happen to be blind – and who have much to say about life's joys, sorrows, and everything else that makes us human.

Thanks ever so much, BlogHer.


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Cultural Diversity
Personal Reflections
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