[nabs-l] Education: Public and Private

Carrie Gilmer carrie.gilmer at gmail.com
Mon Dec 29 18:22:04 UTC 2008

Greetings All,

I have just caught up a bit after the holidays and family time to the
continued thread on the SNL posts. I think (I hope-smile) I have already
said enough for my pieces. I want to say I have enjoyed the eloquence and
thoughtfulness of so many of you-it solidifies my optimism for the future of
our continued progress as a group of people and as an organization.


I would like to add one thought on the use of a cane and the idea of it
impeding Governor Patterson's ability or inability to have his job. Since he
was not actually elected-we do not know from his example how difficult or in
what way his blindness might have been a factor in an election. It was not
enough to prevent the Governor candidate he ran with as a candidate for Lt.
Gov. from getting elected. I imagine now it will be his record as Governor
that will be the major factor if he seeks re-election. The people of New
York especially do have some new good ideas about blindness because of him
just being Governor, and he is in fact doing the job, and apparently from
where I sit and can tell out here in Minnesota is doing a rather fine job
and especially so in a rather particularly challenging time. 


One of our toughest (and maybe even a primary trouble all along) challenges
is our terribly small population and very minority status. We all know from
experience that many are judged by the actions of one; the public often
bases many of their ideas on the one blind person they know-for the good or
for the not so good. Many in the public base their ideas of blindness on the
portrayals of the blind in film and literature as well and have no
alternative experience with a successful blind person in real life. Or the
alternative experience they do have either reinforces the stereotypes or
rather than shattering the stereotypes, they conclude the one blind person
they know to be an exception and an inspiration rather than a rule(whether
or not the blind person is actually skilled in alternative techniques. they
think of that one blind person they know as amazing compared to the bumbling
or tragic presentation in literature and film simply because they can do
basic self care things independently).


My experiences teach me this: Every time one of you is out in public or with
another (perhaps less independent or skilled in alternative techniques)
blind person, whether or not you are trying to, you are teaching something.
I think if Governor Patterson was skilled in cane use, and did use it (not
necessarily without still using sighted guide with he himself making the
decision and directing from a point of strength when appropriate or more
convenient or reasonable for the situation) it would not in itself alone
impede him. It would be giving people new ideas about the cane. And that is
what we need the public and some blind people to have: a new understanding.
The question is if he would appear "blinder" using a cane, using Braille in
giving speeches, or even if say he had an eye condition where his eyes
visibly looked different with a lot of rolling or scarring or something like
that and if that would be rejected by the public at large or if eventually
accepted because his performance was so normal or above normal. Indeed the
more "blinder" in truth in using alternative techniques someone appeared,
rather than looking "blinder" by exhibiting the stereotypes, is what we hope
for isn't it? 


I recall an experience with a foreign exchange student we had last year who
at the time would have rather been dead (his words) than be seen in public
using the cane because of what people thought about it.

He and my son went to the mall. My son was alone, with his cane, ordering
something in the food court. A little girl was overheard asking her mother
what the white stick was. The mother was over heard replying that "he was
blind". Well, that little girl just got a new idea about what blindness
meant. Here was a normal teenage guy in most appearances, ordering and
paying for his own stuff and finding a table and eating.etc. and he had a
cane and he was blind. To that child, well she now carries that image too
when she thinks of "blind". I hope my son does, yes does, look blind to
people, as blind as he really is-and with that gives them a new definition
or idea about what blindness is. I admit some disappointment at the
opportunity lost if Patterson used a cane with skill.  I do not think at all
that it could impede in this case now anyway-he already has the job.


In the end we are working toward the cane not being a factor. How will we
ever get there if blind people en masse hide or reject its use in public in
order to better get a foot in the door? Many thought blackness would impede
Obama's chances, including many black people. And truly there was a day when
blackness alone would have. Now if he was found to be corrupt, or
inarticulate, or incompetent on the issues he would not likely be our next
President. Likewise today I think a blind person has a better than ever
chance (with using a cane or Braille and being obviously blind) can rise up
and get others beyond it and educate. It will be somewhat easier now
overall, even though Patterson may not be skilled in Braille or the cane,
because he has shown that a blind person can do the job. I hope some others
will run for office, and if they lose in the end I think it will primarily
be because they failed to demonstrate leadership and a command of the issues
and to speak to the people. I think it is a factor in people's minds-no
doubt. I think even some may dismiss him doing the job as an exception. Some
too may only accept by thinking he has more sighted help in the actual
governorship than he has. They might think this whatever techniques he used.
Overall he has in the end I think helped break a ceiling.  The blind
candidate will likely have to perhaps demonstrate a superior qualification,
just as the first black nominee for president had to demonstrate a higher
mark than I believe others had to, but if the candidate him or herself is
demonstrative in this way, I think the blindness, like the blackness, will
fall away in most people's minds as being a foundational factor in ability.
I believe this is the best time in all of history for it.


As for what the NFB could do for him. I think the same as it holds for any
others of us. I don't think the NFB is only good for those needing "help" or
is un-useful for those who already are personally generally successful. The
NFB is much deeper and wider than that in my experience.




Carrie Gilmer, President

National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

A Division of the National Federation of the Blind

NFB National Center: 410-659-9314

Home Phone: 763-784-8590

carrie.gilmer at gmail.com



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