[nabs-l] Ignorance vs. Prejudice

Sarah Alawami marrie12 at gmail.com
Tue Jun 16 17:51:06 UTC 2009

Oh Same here. I've ben on travel  routs and have ben asked questions. I try
and answer as best I can while paying attention to what I'm doing.

-----Original Message-----
From: nabs-l-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:nabs-l-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf
Of Rania
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 3:33 AM
To: National Association of Blind Students mailing list
Subject: Re: [nabs-l] Ignorance vs. Prejudice

I think it has to do with both the experience the person has or has not had
with blind people as well as the personallity of the person. I have found
some people to just except me for who I am and ask me questions like how I
use the computer. Once I explain how it works they understand at least to me
it seems that way. I really like it when sighted people whom have never been
around a blind person are interested in learning what they can by asking me
questions. That shows me that they are excepting of my blindness and how I
do things.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Arielle Silverman" <arielle71 at gmail.com>
To: <nabs-l at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 1:01 AM
Subject: [nabs-l] Ignorance vs. Prejudice

Hi all,

Recently we've been talking about airline discrimination, which has
historically served as a good representation of the kind of second-class
treatment that we often get in everyday interactions with members of the
public. I think Jedi made some good points in describing the tendency of
some sighted people to judge us as incompetent based on the role of sight in
their own lives and their assumption that losing their sight would leave
them incapacitated. It is true that we are a tiny minority (even within the
community) and that a lot of sighted people simply don't know how we perform
everyday tasks. In some cases this ignorance leads to discriminatory
treatment ("The blind person can't sit in the exit
row") or stereotypes ("Blind people are slow").

What I've always found fascinating, though, is that lack of
knowledge-ignorance-doesn't always translate into discrimination. In fact
many sighted people are simply curious, and if we tell or show them how we
use the computer, read or travel, they quickly accept our alternative
techniques and treat us just the same as everyone else.
But this doesn't happen all  the time. And then, on the flip side, there are
those who know all the facts about blindness and still "don't get it". This
includes, for  instance, the mobility instructor who's taught O&M for thirty
years but who still insists that you should walk three blocks out of your
way rather than cross a busy intersection. Many of us find that our own
parents make more of a big deal out of our blindness than do people we've
just met, even if our parents have met competent blind people or been to
blindness workshops, know Braille, etc. So there definitely is a difference
between ignorance and prejudice. The combination of both is bad, but you can
easily have one without the other. And it's prejudice, not ignorance, that
actually causes us trouble.

Unfortunately, while we can easily remedy ignorance with simple education,
alleviating prejudice isn't that simple. It seems like much of the
persistence of people's prejudices comes from their emotional or "gut"
reactions to blindness. The experienced teacher of blind students may know
all the facts about Braille, including the fact that children who learn
Braille while young can read just as fast as sighted children. And yet, on
some gut level the teacher feels an aversion to Braille, seeing it as a
stigma or a symbol of weakness. So no matter how well this teacher is
trained, if she gets a kid in her caseload who has partial sight, it's going
to be  a struggle for the teacher to actively teach the child Braille. The
parent who finds his child's blindness frightening, likewise, is going to
have a hard time letting the child play outside or do chores, no matter how
much he reads about what is best for blind children, unless he figures out
how to let go of  his fear. I think so much of the success of our training
centers comes from their ability to not only teach us practical skills, but
also help us  overcome our own fears and negative feelings about blindness.

And yet, as Monica has demonstrated, there  are those sighted people who
display a lack of prejudice and who automatically include us and treat us
normally without any prior knowledge about blindness or education on our
parts. We all know sighted people like this, even though we often tend to
spend most of our mental energy grumbling about the sighted people who treat
us strangely. My boyfriend never met a single blind person before me, and
yet in some ways seems to instinctively "get it" more than my mother, for
example, who besides raising me for twenty-four years, also read many of the
leading  books about raising a blind child. (Never mind that many of the
messages espoused in those books are rooted in prejudices of their own).

So  what do you guys think makes the difference between those members of the
sighted public who show prejudice and those who don't? Is it something about
their personalities or experiences? And if simple educating isn't enough to
address people's deep-seated emotional reactions, what can we do about it?
Do we have any control over whether the sighted guy on the street grabs us
or treats us with respect? It's easy enough for us to tell who will be
responsive to education about blindness and who won't. But for those who
aren't responsive, how do we deal with them civilly while still protecting
our rights and our freedom? And how do we deal with educators like O&M
instructors, who have power over what we learn or what accommodations we get
but whose judgments are affected by their misconceptions about blindness?

I look forward to a lively discussion on this topic, as it's central to how
we act as an organization and how we can really change what it means to be
blind for ourselves and for others.


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