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Does What You Do Really Matter?
by Dana Ard
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Fall, 2001, Gem State Milestones, a publication of the NFB of Idaho. Dana Ard is Secretary of the NFB of Idaho and editor of the affiliate's newsletter. She works as a counselor for the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. This is what she says:
Some time ago I had a discussion with a client about how things were going following her completion of rehabilitation training. "Things are great," she reported enthusiastically. "I still wear mismatched shoes sometimes, but my friends understand. They know I'm blind." Sadly, I fear that this woman has no idea what her friends actually do understand about her blindness.
Our Federation philosophy teaches us that the greatest problem we as blind people face is not our blindness but the attitudes of society, including our own attitudes, about blindness. The attitude of my client's friends demonstrates a two-fold problem. The first part is that of low expectations. The reasoning goes something like this: "Our friend is blind. How could she be expected to wear matching shoes?" I'm sure we can all think of times when friends or acquaintances have expressed amazement over our ability to cook, clean house, raise children, ride public transportation, or hold down a job. In the mind of the average person, blind people can't possibly do all of the things that we find ordinary. The second half of the problem illustrated by these caring friends is that any mistake their blind friend makes is automatically attributed to her blindness.
I have accidentally worn mismatched shoes a few times in my life. The reason wasn't blindness. It was carelessness or perhaps not being very awake when I put the shoes on. Sighted people have a bigger margin for error in this area than blind people. I understand that CBS news anchor Dan Rather came to his interview at CBS wearing mismatched shoes. If the interviewer noticed this flaw, it didn't keep him or her from hiring Mr. Rather. I'm sure a blind applicant wouldn't have gotten off as easily. The error would have been blamed on blindness. The would-be employer's reasoning would then have gone: "If he can't wear the right shoes, how can he be expected to do the job right?"
As Federationists our goal must be to help society raise its expectations of blind people. We can do this only if we raise our own expectations about ourselves. Yes, what we do really does matter.
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