Well, That Was Awkward! The Value of Discomfort

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The awkward pause, the impolite topic, and the embarrassing moment are occupational hazards for the ethnographer. Rather than shun these uncomfortable moments and get back to the smooth, seamless business of research, we should embrace and reflect upon them; they can be invaluable. In this presentation, we will present a study focused on developing and improving resources designed for students who are visually impaired. In the course of this project, we encountered all manner of discomfort as we found our fully sighted understanding of the world challenged by our participants’ experiences. This proved to be a major empathy hurdle, which we only began to resolve once we accounted for our own discomfort as data, and not simply an inconvenient emotional side effect to be swept aside to achieve a kind of ideal objectivity.

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