[nfb-talk] What People Fear About Blindness:

Julie McGinnity kaybaycar at gmail.com
Wed Jan 29 18:08:05 UTC 2014

I agree about being mainstreamed to a point.  One of my federation
friends told me once that one of the most important things we can do
as federationists is to live our lives and pursue our dreams, showing
society what we can do and integrating ourselves into the world.  I
agree with this of course and do it as much as possible.

But at the same time, how else are we going to get laws passed to help
us gain access other than to band together?  It is very important to
me (as a grad student) that the TEACH act is passed, and I couldn't
imagine this being possible without the efforts of the NFB and all the
work we do together.  I actually think that joining together for our
causes will also show people that we have a voice.  Being a
federationist doesn't mean only participating in NFB activities or
excluding ourselves from anything outside the blind community, but it
does mean that we are strong enough, clever enough, whatever adjective
you might choose, to work together to change things.

On 1/29/14, Todor Fassl <fassl.tod at gmail.com> wrote:
> This is why I think it's time for the NFB to move on to the next phase
> of advocacy. We need to work toward integrating blind people into
> society. We need to be against anything that tends to seperate us from
> society and for anything that makes it easier for us to take part in
> society.  I wouldn't say we need to try to be "normal". I'd say
> "mainstream".
> You might be saying, "But the NFB already does that." Well, somewhat.
> But I think this is a greater paradym shift that it might seem at first.
> We tend to think of ourselves as a community onto ourselves. I think it
> might be hard for the NFB to shift toward a position where it's telling
> blind people to think of themselves as members of society first and
> Federationists second. But I think that's where we need to go now.
> You're not a blind person. You're a person who happens to have this
> trait that binds you with the rest of us into a common cause.
> On 01/29/14 01:31, Kenneth Chrane wrote:
>> I am way behind with email, but that is nothing new. Just To:
>> Undisclosed-Recipient:;
>> Subject: [Stitchers] OT why people fear the blind
>> Why Do We Fear The Blind?
>> This is an article taken from the New York Times.
>> BRISTOL, R. I. - A FEW years ago, when I mentioned to a woman I met at a
>> party that I was teaching in a school for the blind, she seemed confused.
>> "Can I just ask you one question?" she said. "How do you talk to your
>> students?"
>> I explained that the students were blind, not deaf. Raising the palms of
>> her
>> hands at me, as if to stem further misunderstanding, she said: "Yes, I
>> know
>> they're not deaf. But what I really mean is, how do you actually talk to
>> them?"
>> I knew, because I had been asked this question before by reasonably
>> intelligent people, that the woman didn't know exactly what she meant.
>> All
>> she knew
>> was that in her mind there existed a substantial intellectual barrier
>> between the blind and the sighted. The blind could hear, yes. But could
>> they
>> properly understand?
>> Throughout history and across cultures the blind have been traduced by a
>> host of mythologies such as this. They have variously been perceived as
>> pitiable idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or
>> as
>> mystics possessed of supernatural powers. One of the most persistent
>> misconceptions about blindness is that it is a curse from God for
>> misdeeds
>> perpetrated  in a past life, which cloaks the blind person in spiritual
>> darkness and  makes him not just dangerous but evil.
>> A majority of my blind students at the International Institute for Social
>> ntrepreneurs in Trivandrum, India, a branch of Braille Without  Borders,
>> came from the developing world: Madagascar, Colombia, Tibet, Liberia,
>> Ghana,
>> Kenya, Nepal and India. One of my students, the 27-year-old Sahr, lost
>> most
>> of his eyesight to measles when he was a child. (Like many children in
>> rural West Africa, Sahr had not been  vaccinated.) The residents of
>> Sahr's
>> village were certain that his blindness - surely the result of witchcraft
>> or
>> immoral actions on his family's part - would adversely affect the entire
>> village.
>> They surrounded his house and shouted threats and abuse. They  confiscated
>> a
>> considerable portion of his parents' land. Eventually, the  elders
>> decreed
>> that Sahr's father must take the child out to the bush, "where the demons
>> live," and abandon him there. The parents refused and fled the village
>> with
>> their son.
>> Many of my students had similar experiences. Marco's parents, devout
>> Colombian Catholics, begged a priest to say a Mass so that their blind
>> infant son would die before his existence brought shame and hardship on
>> their household. The villagers in Kyile's remote Tibetan village insisted
>> that she, her two blind brothers and their blind father should all just
>> commit suicide because they were nothing but a burden to the sighted
>> members
>> of the family. When, as a child in Sierra Leone, James began to see
>> objects
>> upside down because of an ocular disease, the villagers were certain that
>> he
>> was  possessed by demons.
>> In these places, schools for blind children were deemed a preposterous
>> waste
>> of resources and effort. Teachers in regular schools refused to  educate
>> them.
>> Sighted children ridiculed them, tricked them, spat at them and threw
>> stones
>> at them. And when they reached working age, no one would hire  them.
>> During
>> a visit to the Braille Without Borders training center in Tibet, I met
>> blind
>> children who had been beaten, told they were idiots, locked in rooms for
>> years on end and abandoned by their parents. These stories, which would
>> have
>> been commonplace in the Dark Ages, took place in the 1980s, 1990s and
>> 2000s.
>> They
>> are taking place now. Nine out of 10 blind children in the developing
>> world
>> still have no access to education, many for no other reason than  that
>> they
>> are blind.
>> The United States has one of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the
>> world, and yet blindness is still among the most feared physical
>> afflictions.
>> Even in this country, the blind are perceived as a people apart. Aversion
>> toward the blind exists for the same reason that most  prejudices exist:
>> lack
>> of knowledge. Ignorance is a powerful generator  of fear. And fear slides
>> easily into aggression and contempt. Anyone who has not spent  more than
>> five minutes with a blind person might be forgiven for believing - like
>> the
>> woman I met at the party - that there is an unbridgeable gap between  us
>> and
>> them.
>> For most of us, sight is the primary way we interpret the world. How can
>> we
>> even begin to conceive of a meaningful connection with a person who
>> cannot
>> see? Before I began living and working among blind people, I, too,
>> wondered
>> this. Whenever I saw a blind person on the street I would  stare,
>> transfixed, hoping, out of a vague and visceral discomfort, that I
>> wouldn't
>> have to engage with him. In his 1930 book "The World of the Blind,"
>> Pierre
>> Villey, a blind French professor of literature, summarized the lurid
>> carnival of prejudices and superstitions about the blind that were passed
>> down the centuries.
>> "The sighted person judges the blind not for what they are but by the
>> fear
>> blindness inspires. ... The revolt of his sensibility in the face of
>> 'the
>> most atrocious of maladies' fills a sighted person with prejudice and
>> gives
>> rise to a  thousand legends." The blind author Georgina Kleege, a
>> lecturer
>> at the  University of California at Berkeley, more tersely wrote, "The
>> blind
>> are either  supernatural or subhuman, alien or animal."
>> WE take our eyesight so much for granted, cling to it so slavishly and
>> are
>> so overwhelmed by its superficial data, that even the most brilliant
>> sighted
>> person can take a stupidly long time to recognize the obvious: There is
>> usually a perfectly healthy, active and normal human mind behind that
>> pair
>> of unseeing eyes.
>> Christopher Hitchens called blindness "one of the oldest and most tragic
>> disorders known to man." How horribly excluded and bereft we would feel
>> to
>> lose the world and the way of life that sight brings us. Blindness can
>> happen  to any one of us. Myself, I used to be certain I'd rather die
>> than
>> be  blind; I could not imagine how I would have the strength to go on in
>> the
>> face of such a loss.
>> And yet people do. In 1749, the French philosopher Denis Diderot
>> published
>> an essay, "Letter on the Blind for the Benefit of Those Who  See," in
>> which
>> he described a visit he and a friend made to the house of a blind man,
>> the
>> son of a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. The blind
>> man
>> was married, had a son, had many acquaintances, was versed in chemistry
>> and
>> botany, could read  and write with an alphabet of raised type and made
>> his
>> living distilling liqueurs. Diderot wrote with wonder of the man's "good
>> solid sense," of his tidiness, of his "surprising memory for sounds" and
>> voices, of his ability to tell the weight of any object and the capacity
>> of
>> any vessel just by holding them in his hands, of his ability to dismantle
>> and reassemble small machines, of his musical acuity and of his extreme
>> sensitivity to atmospheric change.
>> The blind man, perhaps weary of being interrogated by Diderot and his
>> friend
>> as if he were a circus animal, eventually asked them a question  of his
>> own.
>> "I perceive, gentlemen, that you are not blind. You are astonished at
>> what
>> I do, and why not as much at my speaking?" More than any of his  sensory
>> skills, it was the blind man's self-esteem that surprised Diderot most.
>> "This  blind man," he wrote, "values himself as much as, and perhaps more
>> than,  we who see."
>> I've learned from my blind friends and colleagues that blindness doesn't
>> have to remain tragic. For those who can adapt to it, blindness becomes
>> a
>> path to an alternative and equally rich way of living.
>> One of the many misconceptions about the blind is that they have greater
>> hearing, sense of smell and sense of touch than sighted people. This is
>> not
>> strictly true. Their blindness simply forces them to recognize gifts they
>> always  had but had heretofore largely ignored.
>> A few years ago, I allowed myself to be blindfolded and led through the
>> streets of Lhasa by two blind Tibetan teenage girls, students at Braille
>> Without Borders. The girls had not grown up in the city, and yet they
>> traversed  it with ease, without stumbling or getting lost. They had a
>> specific destination in mind, and each time they announced, "Now we turn
>> left" or "Now we  turn right," I was compelled to ask them how they knew
>> this. Their  answers startled me, chiefly because the clues they were
>> following - the sound of many televisions in an electronics shop, the
>> smell
>> of leather in a shoe shop, the feel of cobblestones suddenly underfoot -
>> though out in the open for anyone  to perceive, were virtually hidden
>> from
>> me.
>> For the first time in my life, I realized how little notice I paid to
>> sounds, to smells, indeed to the entire world that lay beyond my ability
>> to
>> see.
>> The French writer Jacques Lusseyran, who lost his sight at the age of 8,
>> understood that those of us who have sight are, in some ways, deprived
>> by
>> it.
>> "In return for all the benefits that sight brings we are forced to give
>> up
>> others whose existence we don't even suspect."
>> I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness.
>> There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability
>> and
>> daring.
>> The blind are no more or less other worldly, stupid, evil, gloomy,
>> pitiable
>> or deceitful than the rest of us. It is only our ignorance that  has
>> cloaked
>> them in these ridiculous garments. When Helen Keller wrote, "It is more
>> difficult to teach ignorance to think than to teach an intelligent blind
>> man
>> to see the grandeur of Niagara," she was speaking, obviously, of the
>> uplifting and equalizing value of knowledge.
>> Victor Gouveia
>> Vice-Presi
>> --
>> --
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Julie McG
National Association of Guide dog Users board member,  National
Federation of the Blind performing arts division secretary,
Missouri Association of Guide dog Users President,
and Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate 2008
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that
everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal
John 3:16

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