[nabs-l] Blindness vs. Other Minority Groups

Arielle Silverman arielle71 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 1 03:09:24 UTC 2011

Warning-this topic has the potential to start a heated debate, but I
also think it is an interesting and important topic for us as blind
people to think about.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about how the problems faced by the
blind are similar to or different from those faced by other minority
groups in this country historically and in the present. More than
that, I have been thinking about how the general public sees us as a
group in comparison to how they view other minority groups. It has
struck me that oftentimes members of the general public treat us in
discriminatory ways or stereotype us without even considering that
this kind of treatment resembles stereotyping and discrimination
against other minority groups.
Let me give a concrete example. In his book Freedom for the Blind, Jim
Omvig writes of a time when he was directing a training center and a
female staff member at the center commented, "You do your job so well,
sometimes I forget you're blind!" Seeing the teachable moment, Mr.
Omvig brought up this incident to his students during a philosophy
class, and to illustrate his point he said to the woman, "You are such
a good teacher, sometimes I forget you're a woman!" From what I
recall, the staff member got a bit upset and insisted that "no, what I
said about you being blind was very different from what you said about
my being a woman. I was just trying to give you a compliment!"
Now, as blind people most of us understand the problem with her
comment-the implication that being blind must not be very good, so
someone who does a good job isn't like other blind people. To me this
sounds like the same problem as making the analogous comment to a
woman-but she didn't see it that way. Why not? Is there a difference
I have often been quite frustrated when people I know and
trust-friends or family members, who have very liberal views about
race, would never utter a racial slur or support discrimination
against racial minorities, women, gays etc. who nonetheless have no
qualms about saying negative things about blindness. Like saying blind
people are all worse than the sighted at something, or that blind
people are more dependent or less successful than the sighted, etc.
They will sometimes say these things to my face and don't understand
why I don't like to hear these things. Sometimes family members will
make comments comparing me favorably to other blind people. They think
they are giving me compliments, and fail to understand that I don't
want to hear negative things spoken about the blind as a collective.
Yet these same people would never tell an African American that they
are "smart for a black person" etc. I remember during the protests
against the Blindness film in 2008, I was perplexed by how many people
just didn't get it, and didn't see what harm the film could do-and yet
an analogous film where everyone developed black skin or female
anatomy with such dire consequences would never be accepted in our
modern society. And finally, in my research, I have observed that the
college students in my experiments have no problem saying on a survey
that the blind are much less competent than the sighted, yet would
never say such things directly about another minority group-in fact,
lots of fancy indirect measures have been developed to tap those
attitudes because people nowadays are so unwilling to admit their
prejudices, unless it's toward the blind.
So, what's up? Are stereotypes about the blind somehow more accurate
than stereotypes about ethnic minorities? Is discrimination against
the blind somehow more justified? Or is it just that we are such a
small group that we haven't developed the same history, had the same
scale of civil rights activism, etc. to raise people's awareness? Do
you guys think we deserve the same considerations as other minorities
in this country? If not, am I missing something? If so, how do we get
members of the public to see this?
Also, as an aside, I'm curious to hear from those of you who are "dual
minorities" being both blind and a member of a minority group in this
country (ethnicity-wise, or a different group like GLBT, uncommon
religious beliefs etc.) How do you think your two identities are
similar? Different? Do you feel they interact with one another?
I look forward to the discussion.

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