A Discussion of the Health & Wellness Category and the Bias Against Disability

I received an interesting comment following our announcement of the Ninjamatics' 2011 Canadian Weblog Awards nominees shortlist, and I think it deserves to be addressed in its own entry. Here is the comment in question:
I wasn't going to say anything but I wonder if there is a strong anti-disabled sentiment amongst the judges, none of the leading disabled bloggers, who were nominated, made it to the finals. Health and wellness, which is supposed to include those with physical disabilities - didn't. Ecology and social justice completely shut out disabled bloggers. They selected a blogger who hasn't blogged for months and excluded disabled bloggers who seriously try to make change every day. I see bias here. The disabled community is familiar with having our voices silenced. I guess maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I call bias.

     – Janet
When I created the Ninjamatics' Canadian Weblog Awards, I spent a lot of time crafting categories that would be inclusive rather than exclusive. I wanted to see both arts and business represented. I wanted to welcome newer bloggers into the fold. I insisted on both LGBT and Feminist categories to represent segments of the population that are often ignored, and when I created the Health & Wellness category, I made it clear that it was a section that welcomed not only blogs about health care work and healthy living but also by those with mental and/or physical disabilities.

The reason I made sure that was clear is because, although I myself am not differently abled, I have an older brother who is, and I've seen firsthand the social and political erasure that takes place. Over the two seasons during which the Awards have been active, there have been a large number of weblogs by disabled bloggers nominated, and that's something I've been really happy to see. Before these awards, I didn't know that there was such a strong community of disabled bloggers out there, and I have been so proud to host links to it that might help to garner it some attention.

Because of my personal interest in the category, I want to see weblogs by disabled bloggers rise to the top of the Health & Wellness category, too, and to further inclusiveness within the Awards, I specifically set up the jury process so that bias could not play out as a major factor in any category throughout the first round of judging. All 461 nominated weblogs were randomly distributed across 46 jurors arranged in approximately 15 groups comprised of three or four jurors each without mention of category distinction. Each weblog was read specifically for its ability to meet the ten criteria used, which includes a score based on usability and accessibility specifically to keep an eye to inclusiveness as a factor in quality.

The first round is contructed in this way — with a large number of jurors and no category distinctions given to further bias the jurors — so that the feminist, LGBTQ, political, disabled, etc. bloggers will have the greatest opportunity to be judged by the greatest number of judges ranging the greatest number of interests without emphasis being placed upon possibly bias-creating category distinctions. A good blog is a good blog when held up against the ten criteria, regardless of its category distinction. To further that cause, I also specifically instructed the jurors to score the weblogs based on the ten criteria alone and not on whether they themselves would be interested in reading the weblog again in the future.

I am definitely not saying that our jurors aren't prone to particular kinds of bias. I am saying that they are, because they're human, which is why the first round of judging is specifically designed as an attempt to remove the effect of that bias on the Awards results. Good weblogs can be lauded because they are good weblogs and not lose out because of an individual juror's bias.

I know that the disabled community is familiar with having their voices silenced, and I do all I can both to have disabled bloggers represented within the Ninjamatics' Canadian Weblog Awards and to keep bias against them out of the jury process.

Since receiving Janet's comment, though, I have spent more time thinking through the Awards' process and categories, as I'm sure you have while reading through this entry, and I am opening up the comments to your thoughts and suggestions. For instance, would it be better to have a category specific to disabilities outside Health & Wellness?

Thank you so much for bringing this up, Janet! I think this has the potential to be a really good discussion.