[nabs-l] Prejudice, ignorance, and sighted domination

Rania raniaismail04 at gmail.com
Thu Jun 18 10:56:24 UTC 2009

Would the same go for a rehab counselor who told you that you couldn't go to 
school for the vary thing you want to do? The counselor's reason being that 
you won't be able to understand what the teacher is talking about and that 
it is going to be vary hard? After hereing this you tell them that yes you 
know it is going to be hard? I had to tell this person that yes I know it is 
going to be difficult but how am I going to know for my self if I can handle 
it? Sometimes I feel that if you are a blind person with an addissional 
disability people tend to use that against you to try to prove that you are 
not capable of doing certain things.
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Arielle Silverman" <arielle71 at gmail.com>
To: "National Association of Blind Students mailing list" 
<nabs-l at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 1:17 AM
Subject: Re: [nabs-l] Prejudice, ignorance, and sighted domination

Hi Jim and all,

Jim you raise some interesting points about the struggle we often face
in having to prove ourselves and our abilities to the sighted. It’s
helped me to better understandone factor that separates the people who
“get it” from those who don’t. As you demonstrate, much of what
determines the outcome of our interactions comes from people’s initial
assumptions and expectations about us. Some people start out by
assuming that we are helpless, can’t do the simplest of tasks or at
least that everything we do is different from everything sighted
people do. These people will not treat us with acceptance (“like one
of the guys”) until they observe behavior from us showing that we can,
in fact, do things. I’d like to call this the “ground-up” approach
because expectations start at the bottom and are gradually adjusted
upwards as we prove our capabilities. Jim, your O&M instructor is a
great representation of the ground-up pattern of expectation. It’s
clear that she doesn’t expect you to do much on your own and even less
under sleepshades. Eventually she might raise her expectations a
little, but right now she is stuck on the ground which is causing you
to have to fight an uphill battle (literally) just to get quality

On the other hand, there are those sighted people in our lives who
start out assuming that we are capable of participating in all the
same activities as they, even if they don’t have full information
about how we do these things. These  people, upon meeting you, will
treat you like “one of the guys” or “one of the girls”  without giving
blindness much attention.  As long as we continue to live up to these
high expectations, full acceptance is possible.  If it turns out that
we in fact can’t do some things as efficiently or well as originally
expected, then expectations might be adjusted down a little to reflect
this. But ultimately, it seems that people who start out with high
expectations will eventually expect more from us than those who start
with low ones. I call this latter approach the “sky-down” approach and
I think it’s representative of our thinking in the NFB and of the
attitudes conveyed at our training centers. We admit there’s a few
things that the blind can’t do because of current technological
limitations (like driving or using certain computer applications
independently), but on the whole, there’s many more things we can do
than things we can’t. At our training centers we start with the
highest possible expectations. When instructors at NFB training
centers give challenging assignments, they assume that students can
complete them successfully. If the student is struggling, the student
might be given a more simple assignment until basic skills are
mastered, and then work back up to the more difficult assignment. But
ultimately, the student will learn and be challenged more than if all
the assignments were easy.

In the hiking example, we can assume that a blind hiking partner won’t
be able to navigate or keep up safely, and continue to assume that
unless the partner proves otherwise. But why not take the opposite
approach? Why not assume the partner can do it, and then change our
minds only if we see actual evidence  that the blind partner is having
a tough time?

Of course, the ground-up approach is safer and more conservative. It’s
safer to assume the blind person can’t do something rather than
assuming they can and then being proven wrong. But sometimes the low
expectations themselves that initiate this line of thinking aren’t
justified. And the problem is that low expectations tend to perpetuate
themselves. As long as we’re in “climbing” mode and trying to show off
what we can do to elevate our status in other people’s eyes, we’re
going to doubt our abilities and not do as well as if we start at the
top. And the tragic thing is that in cases like your O&M instructor,
we might not get a chance to climb at all. If a teacher is constantly
telling you where curbs are and trying  to keep you out of trouble,
you never have any opportunity to change her expectations.

Unfortunately we can’t control whether another person views us with a
ground-up or a sky-down perspective. We can, however, work on being
the best blind people that we can be in order to give people reason to
expect as much out of us as they possibly can.


On 6/18/09, sarah.jevnikar at utoronto.ca <sarah.jevnikar at utoronto.ca> wrote:
> Hi Jim,
> You raise some interesting points as usual. <grin>
> I am probably the last person, (or one of them) to scream sighted
> domination. I get what you're saying though. I think, for me
> personally, it depends on the situation. If someone asks me a
> question, I will always be polite. Even if it is the drunk guy in
> residence asking me to teach him Braille once he's sober ... yes I
> didn't actually think that would happen either <another grin> Even if
> someone doesn't ask for proof, I still try to either demonstrate a
> skill (if possible) or explain explicitly how I complete that skill. I
> think you're right in not taking someone's word for what they can do,
> and hopefully all the proof anyone needs will come through actions as
> you go about your daily routine with that person.
> I'm sorry if that made no sense whatsoever.
> Sarah
> Quoting Jim Reed <jim275_2 at yahoo.com>:
>> Hey all,
>> I wanted to start a slightly different topic as to how ignorance
>> leads the sighted domination.
>> First of all, sighted domination occurs because sighted people are
>> ignorant of what blind people can do, or how they do it. Therefore,
>> education is one way to avoid sighted domination. The other way is
>> to actually do whatever it is the sighted person thinks you cant do.
>>  Part of the problem is that some blind people are so quick to
>> scream  "sighted domination" that ignorant sighted people are afraid
>> to ask  questions; this does nothing to reduce ignorance or to
>> improve the  public preception of blindness and blind people.
>> Second, like it or not, blindness does play a role in defining
>> relationships; it defines how people interact, how they share
>> information, and what activities they participate in. How is a
>> sighted person who has never interacted with a blind person supposed
>>  to know what is appropreate to do or say around blind people unless
>>  they are free and comfortable enough to ask questions and make
>> mistakes?
>> Much sighted domination occurs because the sighted person does not
>> have the confidence (or the necessary information to be confident)
>> in the skills and abilities of a blind person. I am sorry, but I am
>> not just going to take your word for it that you can be independent
>> until you prove it to me. I am not going to put a blind person
>> through an obstacle course just to decide if I want to be their
>> friend, but it seems like it would be awfully hard to treat a blind
>> person as "one of the guys" until they first prove that they are
>> indeed capable of being just "one of the guys". Similarly, I am not
>> going to go hiking in the wilderness with a blind partner
>> until/unless I knowhow their vision limits their function, and how
>> they have overcome this limitation. This is not a sighted domination
>>  issue, this is a practical issue with potential life and death
>> consiquences. Before I break my leg five miles in the backcountry, I
>>  need I know if and how my blind partner can
>>  handle the situation. If my life is potentially in their hands, I
>> have a need and a right to know that they can do what needs to be
>> done, and I am sorry, but in this situation I am not just going to
>> take your word for it.
>> I guess the bottom line is, in my mind, that equality, confidence,
>> and acceptance, much like respect, are earned, not given. This is
>> not an attitude that I only take towards blind people, sighted
>> people must prove themselves as well. If you don't want to be
>> dominated, then you need to prove to me that you can handle
>> yourself; until then, try as I might, I am always going to be
>> somewhat doubtful of your abilites, and try as I might, my doubts
>> will be reflected in my actions.
>> One last note on equality. It is common knowledge how sighted people
>>  accomplish tasks, and sighted people are routinely required to
>> prove  that we do indeed have the skills we claim to have. However,
>> it  seems that the sighted are just supposed to accept the blind
>> person's word that they can do the task. It seems to be one big
>> secret as to how blind people do task, there are laws preventing an
>> employer from asking how the blind person would do the job, some
>> blind people get pissed when you ask them if, or how they can do
>> something, and, god forbid you ask them to prove it. As a sighted
>> person, everyone knows (with a fair amount of certianty) what your
>> basic skills and abilities are, and they know (with a fair amount of
>>  certianty) how you accomplish your task. So, if blind people want
>> to  be treated as equals, why shouldnt sighted people have the right
>> to  know if, and how you can do something? And, why is it that blind
>>  people feel they have the right to
>>  get pissed off if I ask them if or how thay can do something,
>> whereas I can ask any of my sighted friends the exact same questions
>>  without them thinking I am dominating or custodializing them? If
>> you  trueky want to be equals, then you all need to put up with, and
>>  handle, the same crap as everyone else, and in the same manner as
>> everyone else. Personaly, if someone doubts my skills and
>> abilities, I don't cry domination or discrimination, instead I
>> either attempt to prove them wrong, I ignore them, or I tell them to
>>  piss off. If I am truely an equal in society, I don't defend myself
>>  by crying discrimination, and I don't justify my actions based on
>> the fact that I am "different".
>> I don't know, I guess this is the sighted side of me talking, but
>> these are some of the things I have been thinking about as of late.
>> Jim
>> "From compromise and things half done,
>> Keep me with stern and stubborn pride,
>> And when at last the fight is won,
>> ... Keep me still unsatisfied." --Louis Untermeyer
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