[blindkid] can I get the other side?

Steve Jacobson steve.jacobson at visi.com
Thu Feb 26 16:37:35 UTC 2009


You are having to deal with a lot of things that are neither easy or simple.  Some of what you hear about the NFB is not true, but some things you hear are aresult of 
some basic differences among blind people and training facilities.  Sometimes we advocate certain positions because we know the hard way is really the best way in 
the long run.

Your discussion of "cane extremists" is a very good way for me to make this point.  When I went through training at a training facility that was not an NFB facility, I 
was discouraged from using a cane inside of the building.  I know for certain that some schools for the blind have a rule like that.  The thought is that there are too 
many blind people too close together to all use their canes.  The feeling is that since blind people don't have their canes, the environment has to be made safe for 
them, the approaches to stairs have to be high contrast and textured, and nobody should ever, ever, ever leave any types of obstacles in their way.  To me, this 
makes no sense.  We need to be learning to find obstacles and how to manage our canes in a crowd of other cane users.  

While I don't use my cane around my house, I very rarely go anywhere except perhaps to the person sitting in the cube next to me at work without my cane.  The 
reason isn't that I have some philosophical need to carry a cane as some would have you believe.  The reason is that I believe that it is irresponsible for a blind 
person to expect that nobody will leave a bucket or a garbage can in an aisle when that blind person has the ability to avoid it as effectively as a sighted person if 
they have their cane in their hand.  Frankly, this attitude makes some, and maybe many, blind persons uncomfortable.  They feel they shouldn't have to use their 
cane to walk in familiar places, even if it means that everybody else has to watch out for them.  For me to suggest that they just use their canes causes resentment.  
While I respect another blind person's right to not carry a cane, I tend not to feel that they have a right to expect society to change so they don't have to carry their 
cane.  To them, I am an extremist for thinking that.

here's another example where some would see me as a cane extremist.  I often find it convenient to walk sighted guide with other people, and I sometimes even 
walk using the common "sighted guide" technique with other blind persons.  however, I do it primarily for three reasons.  One reason is that I find it easier to carry on 
a conversation with someone if I don't have to concentrate on where they are.  Second, if I am trying to follow, I have a difficult time doing that when on carpet.  
Third, if I am walking with another blind person, it makes it easier to coordinate our canes.  However, what I don't do is walk the obligatory two steps behind, and I 
always use my cane.  Again, is this because I have a philosophical need to do so as some of our detractors would indicate?  Not at all.  It is easier to carry on a 
conversation with someone if I am walking next to them, even if I am hanging on to their elbow.  I believe that it is unfair of me whether walking next to them or 
slightly behind them to make that person responsible for telling me about stairs or uneven surfaces when I am able to do that using my cane.  This is again, not 
something that is felt by all blind people.  Some have become comfortable expecting that the person with whom they are walking is responsible for their safety as 
well.  There is a difference in attitude or philosophy being shown here, and some resent any suggestion that perhaps they should take more responsibility for 
themselves.  I don't think we can completely avoid some such resentments, even though I would wish otherwise.

As I understand the issue in Iowa, it was complex.  There were some initial disputes as to what the facts really were, but part of the issue, as I understand it, is 
whether a program is required to change what it teaches to comply with "informed choice."  There are some fuzzy areas as to when a course is being expected to 
actually change and when there is an issue of accessibility by persons using dogs, and my feeling is that a lot of exploration of this issue has gone on since this court 
case began some time ago.  From what I have seen here in Minnesota, it just isn't simple to exchange a cane for a dog if one is taking the entire training program 
because canes are so integrated into other activities and the staff has expertise in cane travel that they don't have in traveling with a dog.  Yet, I think we all see 
that a person who uses a dog can get a lot from our centers and the training course is long enough that not using their dog at all can be harmful.  

My point is that I think it is easy for people to find ways of labeling us as extremists so they don't have to think about the positions that we take.  On the other hand, 
we do take positions that are different than the positions some others take and those positions make some people uncomfortable.  However, positions are not taken 
lightly or without a good deal of thought.  Therefore, I hope you continue to find what you see in the Federation to be helpful, but if you wonder why a particular 
position is taken, be sure to ask.  We are all human, and sometimes we're not going to be consistent.  The fact that I try to use my cane, for example, to avoid 
expecting the environment to unnecessarily change for me doesn't mean that I don't make mistakes or occasionally get frustrated.  However, making mistakes 
doesn't mean that the goal is not a worthy one.

Best regards,

Steve Jacobson

On Thu, 26 Feb 2009 09:00:32 -0600, Leah wrote:

>Carrie and Bonnie, thank you for replying. That press release is kind  
>of what I was looking for.

>I know I have mentioned this before, but I hear the NFB criticized so  
>by people in my area. I am always trying to understand what it is like  
>out there, where the resources are, what is the position of the  
>different institutions and resources, etc.  There is no local chapter  
>of NOPBC in our city.

>People tell me that folks from the NFB never let their cane out of  
>their hand and force their kids to be like that. People complain that  
>the local rehab center will only teach things one way - the "NFB way"  
>and that they aren't exposing clients to alternatives. I don't know  
>about the rehab program, but I know that I didn't see any cane  
>extremists at the state convention we attended. I saw plenty of blind  
>people walking across the room without their canes if they chose to,  
>and holding print up by their face to see if if they chose to. I also  
>saw them organizing an enormous, inspiring and useful event using  
>whatever means worked, because doing it was important. I have read  
>Carrie's story about trying to get an older child to try, just try the  
>cane. I have a lot of objections to force, and I didn't see that story  
>as "forcing."

>On the other hand, we have a TVI who has to look on a chart while she  
>is teaching my son his Braille letters. She personally doesn't believe  
>that he needs Braille because he has a lot of vision, but she wants to  
>support our wishes. She comes out every week and works those Braille  
>letters with him and maintains an open dialogue as much as possible.  
>When she taught blind kids for the past several years she never had to  
>use Braille, and still doesn't have any Braille kids in a new teaching  

>I just wonder, if my son lives long, or stays in good enough health to  
>go to school, and if he becomes a skilled enough reader to need the  
>convenience of Braille, who is going to be there making materials for  
>him, who is going to be double-checking the Braille quality or helping  
>him with a formatting issue in a text book? The NFB philosophy seems  
>pretty straightforward to me, but when I sit in my local environment,  
>I feel as though I have joined some fringe ultra-conservative religion  
>just because I think Braille sounds practical. (The good news is, I  
>can identify about half of my Braille alphabet by feel now!)

>Can the challenges of life really polarize people so much? I guess so.  
>I tend to be naive, and want diplomacy and for sides to work together  
>for communication and sharing of what does work. I see the anger at  
>the challenge of blindness, wrongly directed at "the other side."  
>Isn't the anger really about the frustration of the inconvenience of  
>blindness, the difficulty interacting with a world that doesn't  
>understand, and the extra medical problems?

>I think I have a lot to learn. I just hope that I will develop a tiny  
>bit of patience and ability to clearly communicate with others along  
>the way as I raise my son.

>I'm not trying to complain, just put out my thoughts that resulted  
>from reading about the case. I think, as a parent of a still-young  
>child, that I still have so much hope when talking to professionals of  
>all sorts, and that I haven't quite shifted the authority to myself as  
>parent yet. Sometimes I wish someone else would fix it all, and  
>sometimes I try to fix it all. I'll bet that maybe the extra energy  
>for communication and teambuilding might come from letting go of  
>trying to fix...but that is not really the topic of this list. I'm so  
>impressed by the maturity and communication ability of people on this  

>Anyway, thanks again for the comments.

>mom to John, 4, who has visual impairment and severe eye movement  
>limitations, with multiple other issues, and who is super-smart and  
>learned to talk this winter!

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