How to deal with accusations of entitlement attitude
Hello fellow accessibility advocate!
Has this ever happened to you? You are pointing out some accessibility problem, demanding as a paying customer that it be fixed, or you were indicating your disappointment because some service, or site, or app, is totally inaccessible. The next thing that happens, you find yourself under friendly fire, with someone from your own community trying to make you feel guilty for complaining, and suggesting that you just be grateful for what you have got.
The first few times it happened to me, I was somewhat overwhelmed, drew some incorrect conclusions, and actually felt guilty for pointing out immoral conduct on the part of large companies. As soon as I found out the cause of this type of accusatory behavior, however, I was able to completely rid myself of its toxic effects, I stopped viewing these people as adversaries, and instead developed genuine compassion for them.
So here is the insight that turned out to be the game-changer for me.
These individuals, while outwardly grateful, are actually suffering from a condition called learned helplessness. The term refers to a condition wherein someone adopts the belief that he or she is helpless, or beyond hope, in a certain context, and therefore ceases any attempt at improving his or her situation in that context.
That sounds awfully abstract, so here's an example: A little boy regularly gets beaten up by some older boys he plays with at school. At first he tries out all kinds of strategies to improve his predicament. He talks to his parents, who tell him he should not be a sissy and instead defend himself. Trying that, he finds it only results in his being beaten up more vigorously. He tells a teacher about his problems, but this is observed by several classmates who subsequently tell the rest of the class, and so his popularity drops. At some point he is convinced that there is nothing he can do about being beaten up from time to time, and so he tells himself that he should be grateful at least he's got playmates in the first place.
One day he watches the older boys beat up a girl his own age. He briefly considers helping her, but then decides there is no reason why she should be any better off. When she finally manages to gain some respect, he becomes secretly envious and begins playing mean pranks on her.
The exact same mechanism plays out every time someone accuses you of acting entitled when you fight on the accessibility front. The accuser, at some point in his or her life, has adopted the belief that these things just couldn't be changed, and decided to mask that feeling of hopelessness as gratitude. Then, watching someone else successfully fighting for accessibility, bringing about positive change, that individual became secretly envious, and decided to take revenge by guilt-tripping you into adopting their own stance of passivity.
Paradoxically, you would be doing them a grave disservice if you complied, because you would only confirm what their learned helplessness is already telling them, namely, that attempting to improve the situation is futile. Instead, let their suffering be an inspiration to continue on your quest with renewed vigor, bringing about a better world for everyone, including them.
Your point certainly seems very valid and interesting. On the other hand, though, situations like this always depend on the exact wording of your accessibility complaint. I do strongly believe that the accusations of entitlement do in fact often stem from the masked feeling of learned helplessness, it has also happened to me more often than I can count, but to be able to correctly estimate whether a given accusation is just learned helplessness or may actually have some merit to it, we would need to see the exact form and wording of your complaint and then that accusation itself. Perhaps in some cases your point was actually correct and valid but the wording may have made that entitlement impression on the accuser.
Some throe jabs, others throe uppercuts and hooks.
I admit to a somewhat aggressive style of debating, but I tend to regard it as friendly jousting rather than brawling.