by Judy Sanders
From the Editor: The following thoughtful little story is reprinted from the Summer, 2001, issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota. Judy Sanders is a long-time leader of the National Federation of the Blind. She thinks carefully about the implications of her actions and those of the people around her. This is what she says:
The one good thing about the end of summer is the Great Minnesota Get Together, otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair. As I walk through the fair, I hear a variety of sounds: all kinds of music, people hawking their products, the laughter of children, and the wild sounds on the midway. Even better than the sounds are the smells; the combination of fried food, sweet food, and grilled food lasts in my mind for the entire year.
So that I can rationalize attending the fair several times, I volunteer my time at a variety of booths. Whether for a favorite political candidate or through work, I need to be at the fair. The work goes much more easily if I can sip on a large soft drink. This is the story of the purchase of one such drink.
Having received directions from another fair-goer, with my white cane out in front, I went purposefully to the drink stand. My question to the proprietor was: "How much is a large drink?"
"Normally," he said, "They are $2.50, but for you, $1." What to do? Do I accept this discount without question? Are there any consequences that come with the cheap drink?
As a child I loved to go to amusement parks. Occasionally my parents would be offered a free ride for their little blind girl. I was of course their first real experience with blindness, and they had no way of knowing what implications were attached to these offers. Therefore they politely accepted the rides and my day at the amusement park was longer than it might otherwise have been.
As a young adult I wanted to be a teacher in a classroom of sighted children. I saw no reason why I could not excel in this field, but I quickly discovered that others with more say thought differently. I found that, while people were willing to give me a free ride, they were not willing to pay me to work. Here was a consequence that neither my parents nor I had foreseen.
It was about this time in my life that I first learned of the National Federation of the Blind. Federation members taught me a new way of thinking about my blindness. I slowly learned that blindness did not entitle me to special things—especially if I wanted to earn my way in society. It is difficult to have it both ways.
My response to the proprietor: "Here's five dollars; if you'll give me $2.50 in change, that will be fine. Thank you." He said, "You mean you will not let me buy a pretty woman a Coke?" Whether he was correct in his assertion regarding my attractiveness, it was evident to me that he was not buying every pretty woman a Coke. He could not have stayed in business. Therefore I reaffirmed with a smile that $2.50 in change would be fine.
I mentioned that at one time in my life I wanted to be an educator. I was given that chance because of the National Federation of the Blind (but that's another story). For some time I worked with newly blinded senior citizens. When I asked them what they would have done about such an offer, most said they would have accepted it without question. They would have recognized it for the kindness that was intended and enjoyed the discount. They, like my parents, did not yet have the perspective of other blind people so that they could assess this question more clearly. As we talked about consequences, most of them readily saw that they needed to give more thought to such situations.
I then posed a different question. What about senior discounts? We find them in many businesses: Tuesday is Seniors' Day, menus especially for seniors, and airline special senior fares. If we agree that blindness is not an excuse for accepting such discounts, should a senior accept them? The seniors hardly knew how to respond, except to say that for years they have been using them. To arrive at my feelings on the subject, I gave thought to the basis for the discounts. In the case of blindness the person offering the discount pities the recipient. The discounter makes the offer to make the day a little brighter for the poor blind person. On the other hand, senior citizens are regarded with respect, and our society wants to say thank you for all that they have given throughout their lives. No one wants to be blind—but everyone hopes to make it to being a senior. When I am eligible (and that time is soon) I plan to use my senior discounts. There is no doubt about the motives of the soft-drink concessionaire; his last words to me were, "You must have a good job." He's right. I do.