I used to work in a scientific research group where lots of light microscopy was done, a place where I was once instructed by my boss—who also happened to be the departmental sexual harassment officer—to spend a summer afternoon locked in a tiny darkroom with two attractive female medical students and show them how to adjust their diaphragms. The group was also notable because there were three researchers in it who had to use light microscopes in their work but who were colour blind. Luckily there was also a female microscopist in the group.
One of the photo labs where I take my film to be developed employs deaf people, which makes perfect sense—as long as the developing timers have visible as well as audible alarms. But, in the same town where I worked with the microscopists, there is a camera shop that used to have a severely visually impaired sales assistant. He knew his stuff alright so I didn’t mind his serving me, but he was probably about half as “productive” with a given customer as his sighted colleagues because he had to, for example, read the specifications on lens barrels or the text on receipts with a loupe, one of those eyepieces you see old-school photographers squinting through to inspect contact sheets.
It was the sort of thing that The Daily Mail would call “political correctness gone mad”, but my only problem with it was that I found it, I’m ashamed to say, hard not to burst out laughing at the situation. Having myself failed at various careers that I should have been qualified to pursue, I can’t help but admire the heroic perversity of someone who literally can’t see his own hand in front of his face wanting to work in photographic retailing. Whenever I think about it I find myself imagining similarly absurd ambitions, like my putting on a tiara and a swimsuit and trying to enter Miss Stockholm.
Perhaps I should have phrased that last sentence differently.