Is there a new era coming in how the blind are treated? Blindness has been part of the human experience since Man was staring across the veldt for his next meal and studies of our history show that Man's reaction to blindness and disability in general has changed as we have. It has been determined that to date there have been four identifiable eras for how the blind have been treated. They are: 1. Extermination, 2. Persecution, 3. Institutionalization, and 4. Normalization.
Each era's description below will provide a brief explanation of Mankind's status in relation to the world in which we lived and what society's general response was to blindness then. And yes, keep in mind that some aspects of each of the earlier eras linger into the next era and to the present day. After considering my explanations, we will see how you view my thought provoking question, is a new era coming and, if so, what are the specific indicators and what do you think this new era should be called?
1. The Era of Extermination. During Man's earliest times when human societies were just forming, we were still essentially hunters and gatherers. Life was tough; we lived from hand to mouth, each day required us to seek out food and shelter. Our resources were meager, all members of the group had to work together to insure the survival of the clan. When times got tough, the general rule was that the weak were exterminated to ensure the survival of the clan. The harsh measures spared no one. A child that was born blind was placed out on the hillside to die, exposed to the wild animals and weather. An adult that was injured or became blind through accident or aging would be expected to go into the wilderness and unburden the clan from caring for him or her.
2. The Era of Persecution. As Mankind became more sophisticated, we increased the group's resources to handle our basic needs. we developed agriculture to assure our food supply. We built structures to live in and gathered in cities for mutual assistance. We invented armies to protect us, educational systems to train us, medicine to care for our health. Life was easier and the blind were no longer seen as a threat to survival of the group, so they were allowed to live. However, because the blind were seen as weak, not capable of fully participating in the needs of the community, whether protecting it with arms, farming, or learning a skilled trade as a craftsman, the general rule for the blind was that you were allowed to live, but you had no rights. Many of the blind were outcasts, relegated to a life of begging on the streets, seen as objects of pity, sometimes made fun of and at times preyed upon.
3. The Era of Institutionalization. Later yet in time, when the world became more settled, societies more sophisticated, and resources more abundant, some of the blind were taken in and cared for by charitable organizations. These earliest facilities were established in the religious abbeys of the Middle Ages, being called alms houses or asylums for the blind. It was in these early establishments that the blind were first provided training in daily living skills and taught crafts, with their produce sold to pay their keep. Later, actual schools for the blind were established. It was in these schools that a few training opportunities for trades were offered as careers- piano tuning, rug weaving, and chair caning for the men, sewing, rug weaving, and homemaking for women.
4. The Era of Normalization. This is our present time. This era began and grew as consumer groups made up of the blind put forth their own agendas for improving all aspects of life for the blind. Most blind school children attend class right alongside their sighted peers. Most societies now sponsor rehabilitation services to assist blind persons from birth to their senior years, including opportunities during their working years to enter educational training programs for trades, professional careers, business, or homemaking. Now the blind are employed in a wide variety of job positions in all classes of employment. Yet, even with our modern adaptations and techniques to enable blind children and adults to be equally competitive with sighted members of our society, the blind as a group still receive uncomfortable acceptance by the sighted public and a high incidence of discrimination in employment.
5. Is there a new era coming?
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**1. I hope that we are truly entering an Era of Cure. A time when science and technology bring an end to blindness. Each day new breakthroughs and treatments that could make this the last of these eras are being announced.
**2. Hi, as a blind person, I would like to see a new chapter for blind persons. Maybe we could call it advancement. After all, now days most of us have computers, our own apartments, and pay our own bills. Employment, well that might take some time and understanding.*Edwin Yakubowski
**3. In your thought provoker you stated, "4. The Era of Normalization. This is our present time. This era began and grew as consumer groups made up of the blind put forth their own agendas for improving all aspects of life for the blind. Most blind school children attend class right alongside their sighted peers. Most societies now sponsor rehabilitation services to assist blind persons from birth to their senior years, including opportunities during their working years to enter educational training programs for trades, professional careers, business, or homemaking. Now the blind are employed in a wide variety of job positions in all classes of employment. Yet, even with our modern adaptations and techniques to enable blind children and adults to be equally competitive with sighted members of our society, the blind as a group still receive uncomfortable acceptance by the sighted public and a high incidence of discrimination in employment."
I wish we were here, but we are not. Children have federally protected mandates for education and training. They can be normalized if they are part of a good program. Not all programs are created equally. Adults, however, are not protected by any mandate at all and in most cases are not provided with any or adequate rehabilitation in order that they may be normalized. Most groups that support causes for the blind ignore the lack of adequate rehabilitation for the adult community. At the time of the last detailed census, according to AFB, less than 8% of all blind adults in this country could walk independently with a cane or dog. While at this time only 55% were 65 years of age or older.
If you fall and break your knee, when you are out of your cast and done with most medical treatment, you are entitled to weeks of physical rehabilitation in order to strengthen your leg and walk properly again. If, however, you suddenly go blind, you are entitled to nothing. Medicare and insurance pays for nothing. There is no magic number to call to get help either. Each state, through the US department of labor, gets some minimal funding to rehabilitate persons who become blind, yet I know of no state that generally provides adequate services to those in need. In fact there is not enough low vision trainers to train even 10% of those who need the services.
Discussing the problems does not enough for the blind community. In fact, what percentage of blind adults can use the computer well enough to read email or surf the internet? I don't think it is that many.
I have been blind for less than 2 years, but was fortunate enough to have terrific rehabilitation, and as such live a very normal life again. This is a rare exception. I only wish we could ensure that all those in need got rehabilitation so we could actually say we have become normalized in society. We are not there yet.
Harry Epstein, PMP
**4. I think so; however, the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for, etc." comes to mind. I think wonderful progress has been made in acceptance of the blind as productive, intelligent individuals able to contribute to society. The American Disabilities Act (ADA), technology, a more educated society's understanding and acceptance, etc. have all contributed to our present day status and that is a good thing. However, I do believe that we could in our enthusiastic pursuit of more and more comfort for the blind , step over the threshold and instead of being viewed as needy and non-productive and useless, society could view us as piranhas devouring all in sight and thereby becoming a burden at the other end of the spectrum. I think it behooves each of us to contribute and offer assistance to those less fortunate, and in that way make ourselves a necessary part of our community. We should not constantly expect to be treated as "special" and therefore in need of support , but instead, rise above the short-sighted ignorance of those who know no better, and in that way make ourselves a desirable, rather an undesirable, member of the community. We are all inter-dependent and it behooves us not to forget that. Considering the alternative, I look forward to the new era.
Jim Theall, Longmont, CO
**5. Robert, this is a simplistic analysis of history that I don't think is quite accurate. I think that it may be true that societies in general may have tended to think this way about blindness, but you forget that society, controled by whatever governmental system is in place, is not the primary authority for handling such things. I think that even in prehistoric times, love of family and friends may have played a part in some families, and hate may have prevailed in others. Some societies had laws that trumped this, but if I had to bet on the most important factor, I'd say individuals and not society were most important. Now I can't prove that society was this way, but then neither can you disprove it, so we'll let it lay. I think that politics, religion and personal feelings, which you ignore in the discussion, would have been the primary influences in all 4 of the eras, so the phrase "it's not what you are, but who you know" may have been the rule. The reason for the "normalization" taking place in modern society is largely due to technology, which makes things more accessible and opens up activities previously impossible to a blind or otherwise afflicted person.
Finally, the 4 eras you talk about may have been realities at certain times and places in history, but not global, consecutive phenomena as described. Consider Hitler and the eugenics program during WW2. Numerous persons with physical disabilities were either exterminated or sterilized so they couldn't reproduce, and that was in modern times. And even nowadays, kids with disabilities are institutionalized who don't need to be because families either can't or won't deal with them. In my own life, because I have more than one disability, I am told by my mother that the docs were trying to get me institutionalized as a baby -- they said I'd never walk or talk, but I did both by the time I was 1. I was blessed with a supportive and loving family and feel myself very fortunate. Now as for whether there is another era coming, all I have to say about that is that we as blind people should take care to use our new found freedom and "normalization" well -- I mean, take advantage of the opportunities and do our best and be reasonably grateful -- lest a hostility arise among the sighted population that will result in turning back the clock... *smile* -- Oh, and maybe when all is said and done, the light dependent may depend on us... now that would be interesting.
Anyway, that's my comment. Feel free to flame.
**6. I think a new era might be coming, but very slowly. I think you are correct that the economic situation has a profound effect on us as blind people, especially when it comes to anything extra we may need such as transportation, rehabilitation and especially, jobs. Somehow, in the big scheme of things, "able bodied" becomes a factor that makes one person more qualified than another. Although this is a permanent factor that has not gone away or been able to be legislated away, I think it is going to be a bigger factor when the economy is such a major consideration,.
I think it is very sad that society has to have a bottom group that includes a broad spectrum of people, including the blind. If I could only invent something everyone needs, I could get up beyond where Blindness matters. That would be fun!
Nancy Coffman Lincoln, NE
**7. I am generally always an optimistic blind woman who is a part of the current era the blind are in. However, I find with the present economy, the price of technology, and the pursestrings placed on organizations which are now multifunctional and more nonspecific than specialized , the chances that our children or grandchildren will see an even greater era for the blind are low. We as blind folks all know that even with all the breaks including the technology and training to perform in a job which pays as much to a blind guy as to a sighted worker, even with wonderful colleges and universities who generously educate men and women as just that, not black men or white blind women, and lots of times even when you prove you can do it--still you are ignored or passed by. It may be that because I live in a country town as opposed to a city where things are more well accepted, I feel the sting of knowing I have an identity as someone's daughter, someone's wife, and "that blind girl who went to high school here."
**8. With every step we take and every tap we hear, the blind people of today get a step closer to educating the public what blind individuals can and cannot do. I believe that this year we, the blind, will actually be able to go out and get employed a little bit easier than we did in the past. With the celebration of Luis Braille, we, the blind are being seen in a new light. We are out in public every where you look. We are showing people that we can do the same jobs as the sighted. We are showing the sighted that we need transportation and are getting to the work sites. We are proving and have proved that we no longer are the people sent out to die because we can't see. We are proving and have proved that we can provide for our families, we can pay the mortgage, we can go out and shop, we can take our children to school and we can educate the public.
**9. 5. Perfection. Mankind accepts and "sees" each individual as unique and unflawed. Mankind lives together without prejudice or discrimination. Each individual is trusting of another. All can live up to their full potential without fear of feeling different. Mankind has an outgoing concern for the welfare of another person and all person's. Mankind recognizes each person's gifts and individual qualities. Mankind, in general, is "blind" to a dis-ability and sees only the human being and what he is capable of becoming. Mankind, in all his/her forms are, merely, just human beings who have lived together in all eras as a medley of all and any type of differences, that are no longer quantified or qualified.
**10. I had to think about this one, for a few days. But, I think I know where we are, now.
In the very near future, I believe we'll be in the Era of Rebuilding. Right now, and for the past 20 years, or so, we have been complacent; taking the strides we've made, by the hard work of blind people in organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind, for granted. We assume that the rights we have will always be there and there is no further need to stand up and assert ourselves. Things look pretty good. No, the unemployment statistics for blind people haven't really changed, much. But, technology has made great improvements in our lives and, I believe it's, over all, much easier to live independently and succeed, as a blind person, than it has ever been.
But, there are telltale signs that we may be losing ground. My husband is a guide dog user; I am not. But, the cab company and the Para transit company has noted that there is a guide dog at our address. They don't really understand that my husband uses the dog and I do not. But, they expect to see the dog, even if I'm going somewhere, by myself. We just completed a mediation with the cab company, as a result of a complaint we filed through the Department of Justice. The driver, who came to pick us up from a theater, refused us, because she said she was allergic to the dog and couldn't take us. She insisted that we needed to let the dispatcher know that we had a dog. We disagreed and, through the mediation, succeeded in educating the cab company about blind people and guide dogs, and, hopefully, this problem won't occur with us, or anyone else, for the foreseeable future.
But, this morning, I received a call from the Para transit company. I have three trips planned for today, and the woman calling asked if the dog would be coming along. She said the driver was allergic to dogs. I said no, the dog wouldn't be coming. But, I can see that we have work to do, here.
This is just one example of rights which could slip away, if we're not diligent. Society has become much more "me" oriented, and if blind people and the way we do things don't fit nicely into their world, we're likely to find that discrimination is, once again, on the rise, in all areas of our lives. So, unless we take the steps, now, to maintain and strengthen the rights we currently have, we could wake up one day and find that we no longer have those rights. Then, we'll have to find the people who are willing to step up and put the time and effort into regaining what we've lost.
Cindy Handel Willow Street, PA
**11. All them are still present today. We are treated like dirt with NO brain. Unable to talk and communicate with other. The equipment for blind are so costly that you cannot afford it.
You would be surprise some of look that my guide get when we are out shopping by the sight person.
Blindness have been with us since the beginning of time.
**12. No. I don't believe in much of a new era coming. As long as blindness persists, there will always be inequality. The lack of sight is a limitation, no matter how much assistive technology comes along; or how much some would dispute the fact. Any impairment of the five senses is limiting, and the lack of sight, not only is the worst, but the most feared and misunderstood.
**13. I would like to respond to the thought provoker. I believe times have gotten better for blind people, but it could be better.
The unemployment rate is still very high for one thing, but at least blind people are treated better than they were in the beginning.
It is discouraging that we are not given much of a chance to work.
A thought provoker that sweeps from the beginning of human history to the present day requires one in return that attempts a broad view with perspective to match. Whether I'm up to the task will be judged by generations to come.
First of all, I'd like to talk a bit about the worst and first attitude--that of extermination. This is the one that Hitler revived in Nazi Germany and millions supported it. But, having said that, it should also be noted that even in our earliest societies, there were exceptions to the rule. If the blind person was particularly clever he/she could become important as a medicine man or seer. The blindness could be portrayed as something other worldly and important to the clan or tribe.
The other occasion in which blind people could survive was if they were likeable. Yes, that's right. Something as simple as endearing ones self to others was an aid to survival.
I read a study of employed blind people in the early twentieth century. Most of them couldn't travel much and they were dependent on others for many things. They were almost invariably extra nice people. They found ways to cause people to want to help them. They were likeable.
I had a mean rooster once on my farm. He attacked my wife, the mailman, the dogs and cats, other hens, and, even me, although he did that only once. That rooster broke his leg one day. Almost miraculously, that rooster became the nicest little bird you'd ever want to be around. People he had formerly tried to peck, he now cooed at. He clucked at the cats. My wife fell in love with him. It was a fascinating study in basic instinct. We humans, no less than roosters, have that basic instinct as well. In fact, one often hears of a blind person, often somebody with little or no skills in the workplace, "He's such a nice person."
So, there are these two survival skills that could help a blind person buck the odds of any particular period of history. They are cleverness, or what one might call problem solving skills, or, adaptability, and the characteristic of likeability.
I would add one more characteristic to the list of qualities that could be used to break the social prescriptions for blind people at any given time in our history. It is the quality of what I guess I'll call, for lack of a better word, energy.
The ability to study harder, work longer hours, get less sleep, Etc. Taking a fairly modern example, if a blind person goes to college he or she may have to take a bus for an hour each way. He or she may stand in the cold waiting for that bus as well. When others are at the pub, that blind person will be working with a reader. When the textbooks come at the middle of the term instead of the beginning he or she may have to study the entire term's material in three weeks. All of this requires a lot of energy. And, it's fair to say that some have it and some don't. Not having the energy isn't the mark of failure but it does point to the need for some other solutions--that cleverness quality again.
So, you rightly point out that society is seeking to implement the normalization paradigm of blindness. Blind people are pushing for it with our lips and many with our feet. In other words, there are many who are both talking the talk and walking the walk. And, there are many leaders in society, along with the force of law, that are pushing for it as well. All this is positive.
We do indeed have a long way to go. Each attitude from the past still exists in society and in us. We ourselves often wish to substitute being likeable for hard work. We often want to continue receiving special treatment and have full equality at the same time. Each of these contradictions must fall away as we move toward true normalization. Just as racial affirmative action is slowly being modified, so too must the benefits we receive from society as we move toward normalization. Whether we constructively lead the movement toward normalization or fight it in the interests of territorial protectionism is yet to be seen. How and when we reduce the requests for special treatment from society will mark our emergence into true normalization.
Finally, I would postulate one more stage after we've been truly normalized and weaned off of unnecessary social largess. We will, I believe, come to a place in which we will be able to appreciate our uniqueness as blind people.
It's difficult now. We're working so very hard to prove that we're just like others that it's hard to think about how we're different. Racial minorities are going through the same thing. The women's movement went through it for a brief time. There were several books written in the 70's about how men and women were the same as each other mentally and emotionally and that any perceived differences were the result of male oppression. The average person simply shook his and her head and smiled, knowing full well that men and women are very different from one another and should be appreciated for that fact.
So, I believe we may come to a place in which we can truly understand the effects that blindness has on us. Do they effect how we use our other senses? Yes they do. Can this be an advantage? In some cases it can. Do we see the world in ways that might confer an advantage on us if we embrace it? Perhaps.
The question I'm asking is, "What is it about blindness that becomes an advantage?" Or, another question, "What is it about blindness that makes us different? Not necessarily better nor worse?"
Is there a danger that we will try to generalize these differences as society has done in the past? Of course there is. We don't want to go back to a time when blind people could be musicians or basket weavers. In the first instance it was because we all were known to have musical talent. In the latter instance it was because we were all good with our hands. But, still, the question will be asked as we move into this new paradigm, "What effects does blindness have on us?" And of interest to most of us will be the other question closely related to survival. "How can I take advantage of those differences to thrive in society?"
Michael Bullis Baltimore Maryland**15. Back to the Future
As the world economy flounders, as unemployment rises and resources dwindle, as Gestapo thinking about people reemerges, as it already has in Arizona and a few other states, as the unemployment masses experience rage over their joblessness and jealousy about disabled blind folks, as the housing market destroys the American dream and home mortgages owed are many times the value of the mortgaged home, as a "new grapes of wrath" period arises in our nation and around the world, the next era is again the first: Termination of programs-first, followed by termination of employment, then termination of those who cannot compete in a society which might lose electricity, etc., a return to the stone ages and ultimate terrorism against the blind. The new era of "the grapes of wrath" will be far gloomier and dangerous than in the 30s: All Americans have plenty of guns and will steal, lie, and kill to survive, and their targets will be the prey for all human history: The disabled, the blind, the aged, the timid, etc. The meek may inherit the earth- but not anytime soon. A world economic crisis recreates the original conditions and the huge federal deficits also mean that fairly soon funding for prisons, Indian Reservations, and the disabled will stop- replaced by a build-up of the military, physically fit, and brutal. Blind folks reading this and thinking nuts need to ask themselves: What would I do if suddenly there was no electricity to run our computers, no mass transportation, a emphasis on those who can best survive in a new, violent, and violent world: Ghettos for the blind? I don't think so. Beneath the heart and mind of all mankind is still the theory of "super-race" and the trains might again flow into camps of mass extermination. Where were the blind when they loaded up the Jews? Where were the Catholics? The Trades people? Your parents and mine? Humankind is again reaching a dark time in human history and the blind might begin preparing for a role in that future, if given an opportunity. For evil stalks in the heart of man at all times, but in tough economic times, evil triumphs over even the noblest intentions. The huge unemployment rate among blind people indicates that society does not give much consideration. When disability checks stop, what then? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are on the way. Did your family save its bomb shelter?
Scott Wendell Bray, Ph.D.
**16. On my first reading of this Thought Provoker my response was that there really is no new era coming in society. That may have been because throughout most of my life I believed that normalization was the great ideal for all people, both blind and sighted. On my second reading of the TP I delved a little deeper into my beliefs as they are, now that I am middle-aged and I've seen more of life than I had when people were telling me that "normal" was the great ideal. I believe that there is a new era coming. This is the era of interdependence. Some might call it the era of Community. In this era resources are distributed more equally than they ever have been before and blind people get their share. Those who are able to obtain and keep gainful employment will earn a salary commensurate with that of their sighted peers. Those who have other disabilities besides blindness or aren't employed for some other reason might still receive benefits from the government but would get more income than they do now. All people in this interdependent society would acknowledge their weaknesses and their strengths. Even the people thought to be the weakest in the community would be seen as having such value that they would be sought out for what they can give to society. Some blind people might not be able to travel freely but they might be great cooks or be very good at other forms of hospitality and entertain people in their homes, providing food and shelter for those who might need it. Some blind people might get out and go all over the country doing jobs that require intelligence and physical courage. They would be the creative people who give their unique ideas and other creations to the rest of the community. What would the blind in this community receive in return? Most would receive money for their services. All would receive the good will and respect of friends and neighbors. Those who needed to receive benefits from the government would not be considered recipients of charity. Their benefits would be seen by all as a reciprocation or giving back from their country to them for whatever service, large or small that they gave. I see people in our country actually thinking about how there can be interdependent communal living in our society and it is my belief that those of us who are blind could play a huge role in this movement.
Chris Coulter Edmonds, Washington
**17. I hate to be negative, but I'm afraid not. Yes, it's true that good strides had been made in mainstreaming disabled children, assistive technology, and job training. But, no, this is not a sign of a "new era." The biggest problem with disability provisions is that they are offered by the Government. And we have just received a reality check by President-elect Obama that "sacrifices will be necessary" to run the Government as it is.
Therefore, I seriously doubt that disability services will continue to be fully funded. The only way it can be is if the disabled community proves itself to be a sizably wealthy voting block. Case in point: the state of Rhode Island is facing massive budgetary problems. So is the Rhode Island School for the Deaf. Sacrifices must be made to straighten out the budget. But where will the money go? Answer: A ton of money is going down the drain to pay for "pensions" for politically-connected bureaucrats. If it comes down to money for the deaf, and money for the political bagmen, you can be sure the bagmen will win out.
Now as for the blind, I don't know about individual states. There isn't much emphasis on blind programs in Rhode Island. But, on the Federal level, I wouldn't count on Washington for help. Those clowns just bailed out a bunch of incompetent businessmen, to the tune of a trillion dollars.
The love of money is the root of all evil. Most blind people don't have enough money to rent a Congressman, so those guys aren't going to care. Right now, I'm talking to my friend Kelly, who is very frustrated with her bad health and clunky computer. There are only a few people who want to help her. I'll have to do something. I'm not counting on the Government. If anything, they'll be pushing eugenics, not a "new era."
David Lafleche Roade Island)
**18. I think there's an era of struggle coming. Struggle to keep hold of the level of equality we have, and struggle with the pressures that come with improving medicine and genetic predictions. We also struggle with technology - technology is empowering for us, but also disempowering: every time an advance is made, we have to grapple with falling behind as assistive technology catches up and accessibility is not thought about from go.
**19. I agree with Catherine's response to the Thought Provoker in that we do have a new frontier of struggle ahead. However, I think it will be the most critical in terms of gaining true equality.
We have to continue to advocate for audible signals at crosswalks, compliant sidewalks, accessible websites, etc. Because, once the systemic barriers are broker down, it will become clear that we are like everyone else because we will be engaged in society like everyone else. However, when society cannot meet us halfway then it becomes much harder to get to work, much less compete there. Do I think we are entitled? As George Bernard Shaw said: "A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
Natalie Watkins RPLIST
**20. While I concede the accuracy of the four stages of evolution regarding the place of the blind in society, I do not believe a new era is coming.
The common ground for all of the four listed stages of social development is fear. If a blind man can lift 50 pounds, but a sighted person cannot, where then does the term "disability," become useful? Who has the disability, and who should offer help? Therefore, we cannot logically conclude that blindness, in and of itself, is a disability; at least, not a constant, overarching disability every second of a blind person's life. In fact, I believe the term "disability," in and of itself to be inaccurate. I prefer to think of a fluid state of ability; sometimes more, sometimes less, but always able in some respect. This is seen every day, especially now, when blind people can develop more technical and computer savvy than their sighted counterparts, when the need for brute strength to ensure survival is less, and blind people have the potential to be as physically strong and quick of reflex as the next sighted person; and when there are new societal roles being invented every day that have little or nothing to do with sight.
"normalization," as it is called here, does not, then, seem to eliminate persecution. That's because the root of all four stages outlined here is fear.
Nothing has changed; if a stranger does not make eye contact, he/she is to be feared and shunned. In surveys I have read, it is documented that blindness itself provokes the same type of fear reaction as disfiguring conditions such as HIV/AIDS or leprosy. The fact is, when a blind person is seen, the instinctual reaction to that blind person is fear. Fear is the root of all these four stages; you kill, control or sweep under the rug that which you fear.
This fear reaction comes from the limbic system of the brain--right on top of the brain stem and spinal cord, it's often called the "reptilian brain," because it descends from our evolutionary forebears, and is the oldest and most primitive part of the brain. Its messages are often strong enough to bypass the more recent parts of the brain, responsible for thought and reason, and reduces the human to just what she/he is; an animal, reacting with the base instincts of an animal, not with empathy or sentience. This reaction hasn't changed during all our short tenure on the Earth.
I don't know that it ever will. I am forced to the sad conclusion that no amount of technology, independent skills or income will abolish the fear reaction. The sighted don't care if you can navigate through the city with your GPS unit, hold down a job, take care of yourself and have a "normal," life. The fear, and thus the prejudice and hostility will remain intact, unchanged for all the flimsy trappings of modern society.
As the economy goes from bad to worse, resources will be cut for institutions for the blind. There will no longer be the kind umbrella over the heads of the blind, sheltering them from the world as most people know it. With this loss of funding and aid, those blind people who have become dependent upon it will not fare well in a climate of fear. They will once again be persecuted and institutionalized, swept under the rug of society so that no one has to confront them. The only one who will survive this and flourish are those who can be strong enough to remain in a state of ability as much as possible. The blind person who can secure for him/herself a position of equality within a microcosmic environment will do best. Those blind people that can surround themselves with people who are strong enough of mind to overcome their hind-brain's scream of horror and panic, and who can offer a useful contribution to their society will flourish, because they are not seen as disabled. Even within these utopias, though, they will still be feared and depersonalized, unless and until they hold a position of strength and can harshly discourage such primitive reactions. True sentience is the only answer to the plight of the blind; nothing else will do.
**21. I don't think there is a new year coming as of yet. Some seniors are still being institutionalized when they become blind because their family's can’t take care of them and there aren't enough resources for the family to call upon so the newly blinded person can get rehab. Also, it is still not "normal" for a blind person to get a job. Usually when a blind person becomes employed it is a major celebration! There are still too many employable blind people who cannot get a job.
**22. I am a licensed clinical social worker in California who is employed in state service.
In terms of the "normalization era," I'm not so sure we are actually being completely normalized. For example, technology does not usually include the needs of the blind, even though the population is aging, and lawsuits have been filed to create some kind of perceived equality in terms of access to electronics, the web, printed material, transportation, and employment.
Second, it has been the experience of some of my friends and myself that we are not necessarily accepted on an equal or normal basis in the workplace. We are not given the same kinds of consideration in terms of promotional opportunities, off-unit assignments, offerings of expertise, and socialization with our peers. We are not considered when it comes to the accessibility and use-ability of forms and workplace programs and databases.
Finally, ignorance continues to thwart our mission of equality and our steps toward normalization. I walked into a store in Philadelphia, PA, and a man truly had never seen a person using a cane, so he wanted to know what I was doing. I was as amazed that he had never seen a cane, as he was that I am blind and was using the cane.
Finally, I believe it is human nature to avoid the uncomfortable, to put off making what are perceived as unnecessary changes, and to, without reservation, accept what is different. Therefore, I believe we will be in this era long after my life is over, and I am 56 years of age. I only hope that the era will advance and change into one of true acceptance in the lifetimes of today's young children with visual impairment and blindness so what we have experienced will not have been for naught.
Ed and Christy Crespin
**23. I believe eventually that there will be a new era coming. Hopefully of one that is excepting to the blind unconditionally and treated equally as the sighted. Where the blind are working with less then a 20% unemployment rate. I believe with us being in a recession once it is over and things start to look up, others will look at the blind with equal value as someone with sight. I believe more jobs will be available and more opportunities will open up.
Jennifer Massey NFB Parents of Blind Children Mailing List
**24. I send this sad note along in response to your most recent Provoker for perspective - we are lucky to live in the country we do, and our experience is not at all a universal one.
To whom it may concern;
My name is Carmen (deleted by me, RLN). I am a 31 y.o. single Chilean lawyer. Through this e-mail I am trying to reach out for help abroad since I have not been respected as a blind person in my home country. Hope you can be of any assistance or referral.
I am not a born-blind woman. I became blind at age one month old when oxygen entered my incubator. I had a normal childhood. I learned and related to others without any problems.
I come from a low-class family. I was lucky enough to get scholarships and loans from my government to both study and see myself through. I entered law school at 18 and finished my studies in 2002.
Since then, I have not been able to get a proper job. I have mostly gotten odd jobs. I have worked free-lance due to the fact that being blind in my country is a stigma that will not go away. Being blind is a handicap that sticks to you for ever.
I have even written letters to several authorities trying to reach out for help but I have been unsuccessful.
Not everything has been pain and sorrow though. I am lucky enough to have a mother who supports me and friends who are there for me when I need them. This support and my own will allowed me to obtain good grades at university and even get a law-procedure related MBA.
The turning point for me, as a blind woman, was when I had the chance to travel to the US and get a free training on how to live being guided by a lead dog. I jumped at the idea, flew to the US ( I made an effort to pay the airfare ), got the training and I even got the dog!!! I have never been the happiest in my whole life!! The US gave me something that my homecountry never gave me confidence in myself again!!
I returned to Chile with Ruby, my lead dog, in May 2008. I was ready to face the world and its unfairness. Unfortunately, my happiness was shortlived since my country had not changed and I was again a second class citizen.F
I have been looking for jobs ever since. I have gotten only "no" for an answer. I have even looked into things that have nothing to do with my specialization. I need to survive. I need to work. The stigma attached to a blind person has not vanished.
I have been a fighter all my life. I am not giving up but when you "see" so many doors closing, how can you open your mind to thinking there will be a change?
Consequently, I have made up my mind that I would look for help outside, which is where I felt I was a "person". I want to be a person again!
If you can please help me in any way, either by just counseling me or guiding me through a job-application process, I would be more than thankful of you. As you can see, I speak a second language and have no problems in adjusting to a new place. A good friend of mine wrote this e-mail for me but I can communicate at an intermediate level in English.
Looking forward to receiving a warm welcome for your organization,
Thanks for taking the time to read this e-mail.
**25. How about 'The New Age of Enlightenment'?
Allan Dodds England OandM listserv
**26. Considering where the world will be in ten years, all four of those scenarios may find themselves playing out.
Despite the ever fewer numbers of naysayers, global warming is tipping us over the greenhouse cliff and things will change radically in the next ten years.
Add to that the incredible overpopulation of the world and the increasingly depleted amounts of resources such as drinkable water, arable land and, of course, oil. We passed peak oil a few years ago. Water is growing scarcer.
As both of those impinges more and more directly on the average person, we will find humanity resorting to base instincts, those of survival.
This means the disabled, the elderly and the ill will find it difficult to survive in a society where everyone will be out for themselves.
It isn't a pretty picture. There are glimmers of hope, but unless there is drastic change in both the use of resources and how people perceive the natural world, those glimmers will be feeble, indeed.
The future for the disabled may not be very good. As oil runs out, Western nations will turn into chaotic messes. Those in poor nations may actually be better off as they are not so dependent on oil driven technology.
The solution may be to move to places where one can more realistically depend on others and themselves for what they need.
Getting out of the US and Western Europe may well be the answer for the disabled to survive.Dan Blind-X listserv
**27. Global warming! In the northeast, there is record cold weather. Here, the high was 23 and the low will be 4 degrees tonight. Real heat wave, huh? Man cannot effect climate change. Only God can do that.
I don't know what you would call the fifth era of blindness, but things have come a very long way. However, there is still a long way to go. There are still too may blind people who are unemployed. Even though society has generally accepted blind people and allowed us to participate in the same activities, there is still social discrimination out there which prevents full acceptance. Laws can force people to do the right thing, but attitudes of the general public still need to be radically changed for blind people. to be fully integrated and accepted into society.
Leslie Fairall Blind-X listserv
**28. Hmmm, well, Mr. Newman has written a history, and most of it is accurate, but it is generalized in the extreme. Also, there are no positive portrayals of blind men and women till you get to the fourth of his categories.
I want to pause here to expound, if only for a few minutes about Dydimus, Nicholas Saunderson, Sir John Fielding, O'carrolyn, and many more. Dydimus was a philosopher in Greece who had people read to him and write down his thoughts. Nicholas Saunderson was the only man in the time of Newton who understood his Principia. Saunderson was blind. If you haven't read the books by Bruce Alexander about Sir John Fielding, The Blind Beak of Bo Street, you should. He was an actual historical figure who did indeed start the Bo Street Runners and was a justice in Lundon in the latter have of the eighteenth century. The music of O'Carrolyn, blind bard of Ireland in the 1700s has been played and sung for years and is still done so. Oh, and let us not forget Milton and Homer. I wouldn't give you two figs for Milton and his life style and his abuse of his family, but his contributions to Western literature are well known.
Further, there is a long, long, long, long list of artists and musicians and seers and prophets and story tellers going back to the stone age and coming up to Lead Belly, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Alec Templeton and a host more. We, the blind have been the culture keepers, the musicians in courts and cottages and villages all over the planet. We have composed well known ballads, recited the ancestral history of families, predicted the fate of kings, and given pleasure to many.
Is there a new age coming? I dunnow, but I'll tell you one thing, folks. If I'm displaced by global warming, if the economy goes to Hell, if I have to do so, I'll sing, and I'll play my guitar and I'll teach children by song and by word and I'll survive, thank you very much! If we have to make reed mats again, we'll make them. If we have to cane chairs, we'll do that too, but we'll survive. It is through our brains that we will do this, folks. Why do you think that all the rest of the disabled community has the things they do? Well it's because we who cannot see, and often speak louder than the rest have demanded that it be so. Everytime I read the story in the Bible about the blind man who stood on the road and kept yelling "Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me"; kept screaming even though people tried to hush him, I just roar with laughter because I know people who would do that. I would myself. He kept calling and screaming and yelling till Jesus came to Him! Think about it, folks, don't you know somebody like that. Well, we've been talking and talking and yelling about our needs and the needs of others for centuries, and we'll probably continue to do so. Don't short change yourselves, folks, you belong to a great and honorable group of men and women who affect change and keep the culture alive. Celebrate it!
Ann K. Parsons Blind-X listserv
**29. Ann has reminded me that I'd wished to point out something about the Suthsayers, which she gives a nod to in her own reply. Obviously, men like Sophacles and Ann has reminded me that I'd wished to point out something about the Soothsayers, which she gives a nod to in her own reply. Obviously, men like Sophacles and Shakespeare recognized that the blind were capable of surviving and exercising what gifts God gave them; the symbolic meaning behind the blind "seeing" into the future has never been lost on me. I think, even then, that Sophocles and Shakespeare made a brilliant commentary on the world's misconceptions about the blind, though the fact that they had to couch their message in metaphorical language obviously shows that the rest of the world at the time wouldn't have listened to a clearer message. To famously quote Therese's, "You mock my blindness, but I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind”. the clear Shakespeare recognized that the blind were capable of surviving and exercising what gifts God gave them; the symoblic meaning behind the blind "seeing" into the future has never been lost on me. I think, even then, that Sophacles and Shakespeare made a brilliant commentary on the world's misconceptions about the blind, though the fact that they had to couch their message in metaphorical language obviously shows that the rest of the world at the time wouldn't have listened to a clearer message. To famously quote Theresius, "You mock my blindness, but I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind".the clear.
Francesca Marinaro Blind-x listserv
**30. The deeply entrenched attitudes about blindness we currently experience are similar in many ways to the deeply entrenched feelings of racism held by whites towards darker skinned people, be they Native American/First Nation, African American, or Asian. In fact, linguistically, anyway, the concepts are linked; dark is negative, blindness is darkness; language is an expression of thought and likewise of states of being. As long as people perceive others who differ from themselves, as being inferior, negative, lacking, attitudes of racism and similar attitudes about blindness will persist. I haven't got a parllel word for racism or nationalism as it might relate to blindness, so, for this purpose, I'll just call it "orbism, meaning the belief that a person's abilities , their persona, lies in the presence of fully functioning orbs (eyes). While we may be departing the era of normalization and approaching the era of non-labelization (the era when people are seen as human possessors of souls, differing only in physical characteristics such as shortness, blindness, kindness) or unkindness), we'll have the huge chasm of orbism to breach. Just as civil rights legislation did not shake the foundations of racism, so also will the foundations of orbism not be shaken by laws. It's only education, including exposure, involvement, awareness and hard work, that will alter perceptions and bring us to a new era. We've elected a blind governor (I know he wasn't actually originally elected to the post), and an African -American president. It might feel a lot like normalization; it won't go much beyond that until hearts and minds are altered. We can start at home and work on our own backyards. We can consider our own perceptions, determine where adjustments are needed, and spread that more than positive feeling that all of us our in this human family together, riding the same spacecraft, heading for the same outcome.
best, kat Guam NFBtalk Mailing List
**31. Although I get the point of the TP, I think the characterization of history and the manner in which people with disabilities and the blind were treated has been grossly oversimplified--either through the author's ignorance of history or in an attempt to support some larger point which the author seeks to make. I believe that in a number of ancient cultures, people with disabilities were accepted merely as different, and in some societies, people with disabilities were actually given important roles, based on what the larger society thought their special gifts might be. As an example, some cultures thought that blind people could see into the spirit world because of their inability to see into the regular world and thereby their inability to be distracted by the realities of life. In these cultures, such people were not only not exterminated; they were revered and given a special place of honor. Furthermore, in these societies, many members were disabled through the course of daily life--lame through the diseases of age or crippled in the hunt for game or from a battle injury. Such people were often honored for their sacrifices; they were not left to die alone and unaided.
Ultimately, I do not disagree with the main point which is that as humanity evolves, our views of each other evolve with us, and hopefully, if the author of the TP is right, the future evolution will be in a positive direction. On the other hand, as genetic research continues to evolve with us, it may become possible to eraticate disabilities--or at least those which can be pre-determined. So does this mean that those future generations will be viewed as kind for having exterminated disabilities through selective extermination of the unborn disabled, or will they be viewed as killers of the disabled, or perhaps will they be viewed as both kind and murderous at the same time.
Heck, these questions are too complicated for me, and I have barely enough time and energy to balance the everyday realities of work, family and living in the present reality to worry about where we've been or where we might be going. Maybe that just makes me short-sighted, but I'd rather worry about teaching my kids to view people as valuable, regardless of their differences, and hope that in the future, my kids will know how best to move society's dial of acceptance even further in the positive direction--whatever that may be.
Ron Brooks Phoenix, AZ ACB-L listserv**32. I agree with Ron. I think that whoever wrote the thought provoker overlooked the cultures in which some people were honored and respected for their disabilities. Maybe this hasn't been the case in most cultures, but it certainly is in some.
Sarah L. Gales AdLib Center for Independent Living ACB-L listserv
**33. In response to the original question, if there's ever going to be a "new" era, it would only be complete acceptance, which, of course, is a eutopian viewpoint and, at the risk of sounding pesemistic, impossible to achieve. I rather think, or hope, that we'll continue to remain in a state of normaliziation, but I wonder if the four periods we've seen won't simply recycle at some point as the world changes. I'm something of a student of popular culture, and cultural trends tend to recycle themselves every twenty years or so--roughly every generation. I would venture to say that certain historical/social movements are similar to an extent.
Re: the global warming issue, remember that God chooses not to interfere with free will. He has allowed mankind to act according to choice in the way we live our lives and the ways we treat the Earth he's created for us, and with that privelege comes the consequence of accepting responsibility for our actions. As horrifying as it might be to think that a loving, benevalent God would "sit back" and allow such things to occur, it's been the way of the world since the beginning of creation.
Francesca Marinaro ACB-L listser
**34. Out of Normalization will come an Era of Self Determination. This will come about when society has developed the attitudes, techniques and the tools to enable all of their members to live up to their potential. The term, "Normal" will no longer be used in describing individuals. However, we are standing at a major crossroad that will determine whether we achieve Self Determination or Self Destruction. If we continue to feed into the greed of Empire Builders and mass oppressors, we will slide back into those times when blind people were treated as unwanted burdens on society.
Carl Jarvis ACB-L listserv
**35. I think there may be a new era coming. It could go two different ways. The first is that blind children are no longer considered "special education. Our books and materials are provided to us at the same time and with no more difficulty than sighted students receive their books and materials. All computers talk without additional expensive software. We have devices to read street signs, help us navigate and read print information throughout our environment. The other possibility is that the medical profession develops a way to eliminate all problems that cause blindness. Some may include transplants, medications, surgical procedures and other ideas I have not come up with.
Very interesting question.
Marianne Denning RPLIST
**36. I fear we may be entering an era of Cannibalization. Cannibalize means to swallow up or devour. The two main blind consumer groups are at such extreme philosophical differences, that they hurt (or ignore) each other, by taking polarizing opposite positions on the issues too often. There are no longer are two sides to choose from, there is a big gap in between the two, where most blind people and reality fall.
In Marketing, cannibalize means to draw sales away from another product of the same manufacturer in a manner diminishing the maker's profit. Extreme Blind advocacy and activism today, intended to promote a perception of independence among the blind, has caused society not to want to help the blind, and employers more fearful to hire the blind.
Of course this era is not over yet, and the final outcome is a work in progress. Rather than relying just on the blind consumer groups, we as blind individuals, can lift up and encourage each other. When one of us succeeds, we all do. This is a great discussion, and an awesome site. Thanks Robert!
Mark in Omaha, NE
**37. Think we should return to the good old days? In spite of what history tells us, I find it hard to believe that clan's discarded their members, particularly family members and their children. Is it that clan refers to animals (cave men)? To which in my line of thought, they were not of the human race as describe in Genesis. Therefore not included in the human era. They belong to a different species, such as monkeys and apes. I don't believe every thing history depicts. I stand by what the scripter's tells us. To go on, Yes we have advanced in our human behavior, even though as I speak, we are surrounded by so much violence. I do believe that the disabled will attain a much higher level of independent living because of a greater awareness and advancing technologies .
I really Don't Know
jack Mindrup Omaha NE
**38. I've read that in the most ancient of times, and here I'm unable to give precise dates, but certainly before recorded history, that the blind and other handicapped people were held in high esteem and were giving the task of running society. They were the mayors, etc. and judges. I also read that the blind were involved with music. I can tell you where I read this, but I can't vouch for its veracity. I tend to believe it, because of other matters related in that book. It's called the Dragon Legacy. The author, Nicholas DeVere, says he's a descendant of a class of human, not us, that ruled the Earth in deep past. He says his people were viciously attacked by the Catholic Church, and made them into fairies and vampires to degrade them. I won't bore you further, but this is an area in which I am very interested in. I believe that there was a civilization previous to the ones we read about, and it was they who are responsible for the extreme engineering marvels, like the Great Pyramid and the Temple in Baalbek, Lebanon.
At any rate, I enjoyed your writings and hope that we continue to become more enlightened. I've said it often, the handicapped community could only gain by cooperation with the non-handicapped, and the reverse is just as true.
Bill Heaney PA
**39. My heart is filled with deep sorrow as I write this. There are plenty of confused thoughts running through my head, and I deeply beg your kindest pardon as I sort through them.
I'd like to think that we blind are in a period of normalization. However, everything in my being refutes it. Our unemployment is still a staggering 70%. Our literacy rate is only 10%, and didn't someone just say that only 8% of us can move independently with a mobility device such as a cane or dog? We deserve better than this!
I'd like to think we're headed in a positive direction. The truth is that I honestly don't know. I agree with many of you that science will try to cure us. While I believe it's an individual's choice to receive a cure, I doubt the state will allow us such choice because it may be cheaper to cure us than empower us to live as God intended us to live. My thinking is that I'm blind for a reason, and I have no intention of being cured because there's nothing wrong with me in the first place.
I think the sighted want to help us. As a rule, I think the non-disabled want to help us and accept us. But instead of considering their real feelings of fear and prejudice, it's much easier to smooth them over with political correctness and talk of independence and the importance of first person language to minimize our differences. The truth is that if they saw nothing wrong with us, there'd be no reason to minimize our differences in the first place. doesn't it all go back to what Dr. Jernigan and Noel Nightingale said about euphemisms and their underlying meanings, as well as the implications they have in the ways the sighted and non-disabled relate to us?
I don't know what's ahead for you and I. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what era we belong to or which is ahead. Dr. Jernigan spoke of an era after civil rights. I believe he spoke of such an era because things were so much better for him and us in his later years than in his youth. But I as a young person can tell you that there's still a lot of prejudice out there, and it's hidden beneath political correctness and the fact that self reflection is too painful anyway. No one wants to believe that they have prejudice. The sad thing is that, as Dr. Jernigan reminds us, we blind often see ourselves as others see us. Most blind people my age have no idea what our elders have done to insure the rights we do have. Most of my blind peers are happy to have that new computer and do not recognize a need to continue fighting. Those of us blind that still fight are seen as having chips on our shoulders by those who would minimize our differences as discussed above.
I do believe there is room for education everywhere. I believe that we can make our lives better than they are today. I do believe that blind consumers united together will contribute a large force of strength in a positive direction to make it come true. But I also believe that times are uncertain for everyone, including us. I'm sorry if my reflections are convoluted. The sheer uncertainty of the times ahead presents a huge obstacle to knowing what's ahead for us as a society, let alone as blind people. As sad as it sounds, I'm only twenty-four and I occasionally feel the struggle's too big for me, even on a personal level. I just hope I can be as strong for my descendants as some of you have been for me.
**40. I do not agree with the splitting up of eras of how the blind have been treated at all. I think that all of the aspects of the four eras have been present throughout history and will remain. Copious examples have been given of exceptional blind people in their times but nobody has yet mentioned that even now blind babies are in fact being disposed of in garbage dumpsters and exterminated during pregnancy, many blind people are in fact begging on street corners, and being forced into assisted living homes. And all of this in our great progressive country. I agree with whoever said that it was because of man's fear reflex and I would like to also add apathy and the fact that everyone is already out for himself, whether the apocalypse is nigh or not.
It was also stated that "going back" to playing music and handicrafts might be on the rise with the dwindling economy. I would like to state that I feel it criminal for people to urge blind children away from these types of ventures because in fact many blind folks are talented in these areas, they are as valuable to our society as science & technology and if people weren't goaded away from these professions we would have a larger employment rate.
Mike Corvallis, Oregon
**41. I think that in a sence that this is the era of acceptance. people are finally beginning to get educated enough about the blind that they are viewing blindness as a something that of a minor inconvenience and not necessarely as a crippeling handycap. I am not saying that this goes for all people, but I have incountered more people who are accepting than ones who are pitying.
Mytchiko McCom, MS USA
**42. I believe that we're in an era in which extermination, persecution, institutionalization and normalization all exist to create the current era. There may be many blind and disabled students and employees in the mainstream, but, as Resp. 3 pointed out, many adequate rehabilitation services and training are lacking, and many are still discriminated against when it comes to employment. Thus, there are still many who are still being institutionalized during their formative years and/or are being cared for in foster home kind of settings in their adult life. My ex-boyfriend is such a case. As Resp. 5 also pointed out, extermination of people who were physically and/or mentally disabled as well as those who didn't look Aryan were exterminated during World War II. This was only a little over sixty years ago. Resp. 5's contribution to the Thought Provoker brings to mind a comment someone on an e-mail list I was formerly on addressed. The list member said that she felt that eugenics should be reintroduced. Though she claimed that it was a "tongue and cheek" joke or comment. It still got me to thinking, "Doesn't the idea of reintroducing eugenics mean that whatever genes cause blindness could be disposed of? FIf so, doesn't this also mean that any other undesirable traits--color of one's skin--could be disposed of as well?" Keep in mind that the comment the person made was only four years ago. It would be nice to dispose of blindness altogether so that our descendants wouldn't have to suffer as we did. I'm not saying that blindness is something to be ashamed of, but it would be an interesting step to take. However, it seems that the technological advancements made in medical and biological science ends up getting into the wrong hands and, thus, being used to destroy what is already good. So, I guess you could say that I feel that our current era is called EPIN, the first letter of each titled era--Extermination, Persecution, Institutionalization, and Normalization
**43. I would like to respond to Gregg, response No. 1. Gregg, I notice you speak of a "cure." Yet, as a person born blind, I am not sick (other than with the cold I have now.) I am a whole blind person, not a person missing sight, just as I am a whole woman, not a person missing being a male.
You speak of the eradication of blindness. Actually, it is my hope that there will be an increasing number of blind people, as this will give us greater power in the political arena.
Karen in Ca.
**44. OK, how about this for a next stage -- assimilation? No longer an identifiable "blind community." Oh yes, there will still be plenty of dysfunctional human beings. The tide is actually rising, especially among the light-dependent, but adapt, learn and produce, and you're as good as anyone else.
**45. 5.-The Interdependence era: An age where we help each other regardless of the disability or ability; we're all equals and our lives are enriched both ways: we learn lots of things and have very enriching experiences by working and living with the sighted and vice versa.
From the sighted I've learned about how beautiful the world looks with the vast array of colors (mainly from the descriptions of sighted people, audio described movies and from books and magazines), how each person is unique physically, about the complex world of nonverbal communication, the complexity in in which a sighted person looks at whatever picture and though the photo is in only two dimensions on a flat surface, how the brain interprets the picture as a tridimensional object and other details I will never be able to see for myself.
Now from what sighted people have learned from knowing me:
1.-Each enclosed space (store, car or house) has its unique smell thus I'm able to know which supermarket I'm in.
2.-By hearing the person's voice I'm able to tell good or bad intensions and other subtle details only the voice can give away. Though there have been lots of other things being learned both ways, I'll let others pitch in.
**46. Reading through the TP and comments to the halfway point brings many thoughts to mind. I had an economics professor who frequently reminded us that we don't have any rights that we don't fight for every day. There are several things which have happened in the past few months which underscore the complexity of our situation. Depending on how you look at things, they may bring you hope or cause alarm.
Blind people represent a growing minority. In December, the CD released its projections of a three-fold increase in diabetic-related blindness among working-age Americans by 2050. This does not take into account the increasing blindness from other factors -- the aging of the population, and adverse reactions to prescription drugs, for instance. It is already true that most blind Americans grew up sighted. The fact that they have -- by the time of their blindness -- internalized the negative stereotypes and low expectations of the society at large is a major factor in why most of them do not become productive independent blind people.
In January, Daphna Nachminovitch, the vice-president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in an interview on the web site of the Los Angeles Times decried the existence of guide dog programs.
Nachminovitch’s objections go beyond PETA’s distaste for breeding programs. “They are kept in harnesses almost 24/7, people are prohibited from petting or playing with them and they cannot romp and run and interact with other dogs.” PETA also claims that schools force blind people to return their retired dogs.
Worse yet, Nachminovitch doubts the fitness of most blind people to care for their animals, “A deaf person can see if a dog has a medical issue such as blood in her urine, a blind person living alone cannot.” PETA’s solution would return blind people to lives of dependence; “The human community should do more to support blind people, and give dogs a break."
Many blind people commented on the site refuting every point. Letters to the editor and op ed pieces were submitted. Many called for the Times to do an article refuting these claims. So far nothing. Why?
We hear it time after time from each other, social attitudes must change. In the wake of the Saturday Night Live skit making fun of his blindness, New York's Governor David Paterson pointed to social attitude as the reason behind the massive unemployment rate among working-age blind Americans. Since the Louis Harris poll conducted for the National Organization on Disability which concluded that Americans view people with disabilities as "fundamentally different" than the rest of the population, we have made many strides forward in legislation and technology, but not in public acceptance. The reptile brain may be at the root of it, and the economic downturn is surely making things worse; but, white people used to have a similar reaction to seeing a black person. What changed for the African-American community? What did they have that blind Americans don't have?
In the festivities that proceeded the inauguration of our first African-American president, Queen Latiffa told the story of Marian Anderson, the African-American contralto. Eleanore Roosevelt invited Ms. Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall. The First Lady believed that it would be instructive and beneficial for the whole country to whitness for themselves that African-Americans had something to offer society, and so it was.
Many African-American musicians, actors, comedians and news people have followed. Little by little, as the general society has enjoyed their music, laughed at their jokes and relied on their news reports, weather forecasts and sports commentary, the social stigma that surrounded being black has given way. No, it's not gone, but it has changed enough to precipitate more opportunities and a better life for today's African-Americans.
Minority presence in mainstream media has also improved acceptance for Latinos, gays and women. However, there hasn't been a new, blind American superstar in decades, and the only famous blind woman most people can name is Helen Keller, who died over fifty years ago. The lack of a female representative in the mainstream media is particularly telling and ominous. No minority has made gains without the help of their women. Although it is an uphill battle for all of us, overcoming the stigma of being a blind woman has an added dimension. The public sees Stevey Wonder, Jose Feliciano and David Paterson. Two blind men --Scott MacIntyre this season -- have made it past the preliminary level on American Idol. But, where are the blind women?
In my role as head of media relations for the NFB's Performing Arts Division, I have become acquainted with the work of many blind women whose music spans everything from folk to classical, country to hip hop and rock to jazz. Without exception, they are indie artists, unaffiliated with large record companies. I do wonder, however, how much support they are receiving from other blind people. I don't think we can affect any lasting change without them.
**47. Well, Leslie, the pay isn't any better here; my former job showed just how totally awful treatment can be because they mucked up my accommodations by not listening to me but the training manager who has a deaf daughter.
Now, if the damn government would make its application process accessible, I'd love to have a job with the government, preferably with blind consumers at the VA which has its issues, but I believe the rank and file employees are doing their best to do right by our vets.
Darla J. Rogers, B.A. M.S. Tallahassee, Florida
**48. Currently, of course, I have to agree that we’re in an era of normalization. I’d temper that, however, by saying that it’s a kind of grudging normalization, for it’s still not overly respectable to a lot of people just to be yourself — blind or not. I think this is largely due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the world’s populace is still wrapped up in the so-called “medical model” that says there’s something wrong with being blind, deaf, a wheelchair user — and that this must be “fixed,” and made to go away.
I therefore think the next era for us will be a strange one in a lot of ways, for it means that history will go full-circle in one respect. Humans started out largely exterminating the blind and otherwise disabled, and I think that this extermination will come about in a different sort of way.
I mentioned the medical model. Well, I believe the medical model will prevail again in the form of stem cell and other research, and I believe that in perhaps two or three decades, we will all live to see that medical advances will be made to exterminate blindness itself. Hence, the blind will be exterminated, in a sense, by having the blindness go away.
I’ve often said that I’m extremely mixed on this prospect. The conventional wisdom says I should be waiting on it with baited breath. What this wisdom fails to take into account is that many of us who have been born blind or have been blind from a very young age wouldn’t know what to do with the gift once we got it out of the box. We’ve never seen what something looks like when it’s twenty feet away; we have no concept visually of what this means. I had enough to see colors and shapes if the light was good and the objects were very close or bright, but I lost all that when I was fourteen, and yet the loss was far from traumatic. But what if I didn’t have that? How would a sighted person describe to me visually what red is, and how it differs from blue?
At the same time, I recognize that many, many people would welcome the prospect. I don’t, but is it right for me to feel that they should get on with life? Maybe, if they’ve been blind since birth, but what if they lost their sight at the age of 28, or 50, or whatever? I can’t say I necessarily identify with such people; I didn’t have that traumatic adjustment to make. I honestly can say I don’t know what they’re going through. The only thing I can safely say is that I can imagine what I’d feel if I suddenly lost my hearing. I would naturally be devastated, and I would probably get the cochlear implant even if it’s imperfect. So how can I look askance at a newly blinded person for wanting his/her sight back? We all want what we used to have, I suppose, especially if it’s become an integral part of our life.
Notwithstanding, I don’t expect a lot of people to understand this distinction. I know for a fact that a lot of people don’t unless they’ve been given an opportunity to think about it.
Maybe my current anxiety stems from a book I read this weekend that talked about the ADA and the backlash against it — part of which was caused by the continuing prevalence of the medical model. There was a lot of discussion therein about Christopher Reeve and how he dealt with the accident that brought about his spinal cord injury.
I’m just pondering and wandering here, but I’ve often thought about Christopher Reeve over the years. I’m just not sure what to actually think about him one way or another. Lest I be counted as totally heartless, let me say that his accident was certainly traumatic. I hope I never sustain a similar incident that would leave me unable to move from the neck down. And a part of me was sorry that he died before he was ever able to get what he really desired most.
Yet I could never really regard him as a hero.
I was at Target today to do some shopping when I discussed this with the person who was assisting me there. It so happens that this man who was helping me was in a wheelchair, and we often talk about such things. I don’t know him outside of Target, but I know him well enough to discuss my feelings about the book, and about Christopher Reeve. I brought it up because I know he’s used a wheelchair all his life,, though I don’t know the specific nature of his disability aside from this.
“You know,” I said, “it probably isn’t nice, but I just can’t bring myself to think of him as a hero.”
“Of course,” he said, “because you’re like me. You and I can’t identify with him because neither one of us knows what it’s really like to be any other way than how we are.”
“Also, it always bothered me that he so publicly pushed for a cure, and yet that’s not very nice either, I suppose.”
“Well,” said my Target friend, “maybe that’s because with all his money, he didn’t do next to anything in the way of advocacy. But then, he didn’t have to worry about not having enough to hire attendants and all the bullshit that comes with it.”
“Yet I know that it should have been okay for him to have wanted to walk again,” I said, explaining that we all want what we used to have.
“Oh, sure,” he said, “but it’s just that when people bring the same thing up to me, I find I don’t care, because this is the way I’ve been for forty-three years.”
I guess all this leads me to expect a societal change that would cause a lot of discomfort not only to the blind, but to the deaf and to wheelchair users as well when such people have been the way they are for a very, very long time. We would be faced with a choice, especially in light of the possibility that the medical model would dictate that we get “fixed” so that we alleviate some of the societal burden that disability had supposedly wrought.
I suspect the transition would go smoother as the years go by. Those born blind would simply be “fixed” shortly out of the chute, so there’d be no problem. There would be no more deaf culture because there would be no more new deaf people. Maybe that’s all for the best.
I just wonder, in even the most infinitesimal way, whether we’re losing something in the bargain, but I can’t put my finger on it.
John D. Coveleski, Minneapolis, MNTOP OF PAGE