by John Bailey
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Fall, 0, issue of the NFB Vigilant, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. John Bailey is a relatively new Federationist and already president of the Fairfax County Chapter of the NFB of Virginia. John is dealing with gradual sight loss and is doing so by putting our Federation philosophy to work in his daily life. Here is what he says about blindness and getting about in the community:
When I was a student at George Mason University, I noticed that periodically blindfolded students were escorted about the campus. They tentatively inched forward while the escort stood behind, giving directions by pushing an elbow. As I watched from a distance, the pairs would creep up and down stairs and run into pillars supporting the covered walkways. I was unsure whether or not to stop them with the information that they were doing it all wrong. I found out later that George Mason Disabled Student Services (DSS) sponsored annual activities intended to sensitize the general student population to the day-to-day turmoil of the handicapped.
I doubt that what DSS thought it was teaching and the lesson actually learned were the same. I am sure DSS's heart was in the right place; however, the only thing accomplished was to further associate blindness with helplessness in the minds of those who participated in the blindfolded exercises. The participants learned nothing from this activity about the way a properly trained blind person would perform in the same situation.
One of the biggest impediments to the blind participating in society as fully as we are able is the reduced expectation that society has of us. When sighted people see a blind person, they see only the problems blindness can cause. Sighted people believe that blindness is helplessness because, if they suddenly lost their vision, all their old ways of doing things would no longer work. How could they drive or read print? If they were blind, how could they do things the same way? The conclusion: all blind people must have very difficult and limited lives.
This brings up a very good question, "Is it possible to communicate to the general public how effectively a well-trained blind person can function?" If it is possible, the sensitizing activities of the University haven't accomplished that goal.
A better way is through personal contact, by personal example and the positive image the Federation teaches. I have just started using a long white cane. I have had proper mobility training, and I am very comfortable using a cane to navigate about the streets. However, I am still uncomfortable having people I know see me with it. This reluctance to be identified as blind is very common, and I am not going to discuss my ongoing struggle with it. Suffice it to say that I am recently cane-enabled and my friends and co-workers now see us (my cane and me) together.
One thing I have noticed while traveling is that people are curious about the cane and the way I use it. I was not expecting this reaction. People want to ask me questions. This public curiosity gives me a great opportunity to inform them about how a capable blind person can function. A co-worker asked me about colored stripes on my cane. He wondered if the colors represented the degree of blindness of the user. I thought this was a great question. I told him no. The basic cane is white. Other colors don't have any special meaning. He asked several more questions, and we had some laughs. I suspect this simple conversation left a positive imprint on my co-worker since I was the first blind person he had ever met.
The simple fact is that very few people understand the truth about blindness. A larger number of people have a completely mistaken idea, and the majority hasn't a clue. Being a Federation member has given me the words to express what I know is true: blindness can be reduced to an annoyance. As Federationists we have a great opportunity to make positive changes in people's attitudes about blindness. By our simply being out in public with our canes and dogs, living our lives, we are sending a clear message to others that we are quite able.
A deferred charitable gift annuity is a way for donors to save taxes and make significant donations to the National Federation of the Blind. (The amounts here are illustrative, not precise.) It works like this:
James Johnson, age fifty, has decided to set up a deferred charitable gift annuity. He transfers $10,000 to the NFB. In return, when he reaches sixty-five, the NFB will pay James a lifetime annuity of $1,710 per year, of which $179 is tax free. In addition, James can claim a charitable tax deduction of $6,387 of the $10,000 gift in the year the donation is made.
For more information about deferred gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.