[NFB-Talk] civil disobedience question

Jim blind.grizzly at gmail.com
Tue Jan 14 18:57:49 UTC 2020

Here is a comparison that illustrates the importance of self-determination through a balance of self-reliance and accessibility.  The stories of these two blind college students came to me from a long-time coordinator of disability services at a Midwest university.  I was doing the same work from another university at the time.

According to the college disability services coordinator, his office served two blind students who started and finished college together.  Both were bright and capable.  Both did very well academically.  One insisted on any and all accommodations.  The other used accommodations occasionally.  The student who relied heavily on accommodations did not do much for himself.  For example, he did not take his own notes and relied entirely on notetaking services.  The other student declined notetaking services because he felt he could take notes on his own and because note taking improved his ability to learn.  It went like this for all accommodations throughout the academic careers of these two students.  For sure, it was not a matter of relying only on one or the other.  It’s just that one student leaned on accommodations while the other mostly fended for himself.

About a year after the two graduated, the coordinator caught up with them to see how things were going.  The student who relied on accommodations complained about not finding a job.  The student who was mostly self-reliant was already rising up his career ladder.  

For whatever it’s worth, I don’t view the NFB push for self-determination as a conservative issue.  Self-determination is so important, it transcends the labels of conservative and liberal.  I believe Dr. Jernigan was spot on engaging and influencing the ADA the way he did.  That’s because there is a clear and present danger in overreliance on accessibility as well as in being forced to accept accommodations we do not want or need.  Yes, technology elevates accessibility concerns more today than Dr. Jernigan imagined way back in 1990.  However, the critical balance between self-reliance and accessibility persists currently and for the future.  Also, Federationists don’t have a lick of trouble insisting on accessibility.  For example, I served as one of two federal class representatives in our lawsuit with Target for its formerly inaccessible website.  Notice I said, “formerly inaccessible?”  We successfully convinced Target to comply with the ADA and other civil rights laws by making its web technology accessible to and usable by blind patrons through a strong settlement.  However, accessibility can never be the whole story.  Blind people have to find ways to exercise self-reliance.  Perhaps our biggest enemy is low expectations, and, like it or not, blind people have to demonstrate over and over again that we can do most things for ourselves.  We want others to rely on us and not treat us as victims or objects of good works.  Bottom line is that civil rights turn on self-determination, and self-determination is a blending of self-reliance and accessibility.


Jim Marks
blind.grizzly at gmail.com

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