The Braille Monitor                                                                                       November 2002

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Freedom for the Blind

A Review

by Alan Myklebust

From the Editor: Alan Myklebust has worked at the Arizona School for the Blind for over twenty-five years as a teacher, technology specialist, coach, and administrator. We are very pleased to publish his review of this important book:

James Omvig has written an important work about blindness, Freedom for the Blind, which should be read by everyone in the blindness system, from service providers to administrators, from educators to rehabilitators, and blind individuals themselves. In simple, passionate, no-nonsense language, Mr. Omvig explains the truth about blindness. Omvig knows the truth. He has lived it. He has been in, out, around, and through the blindness system throughout his life. He has experienced firsthand the good, the bad, and the ugly of what society and programs for the blind have done to and for blind people. He was taught by great masters and has become one himself.

This work is a declaration of independence for blind people and a challenge to the blindness system to empower blind constituents, create positive attitudes about blindness, and "think and dream and teach out of the box." Omvig does not just deplore the abysmal statistics about the employment of blind people; he offers a formula to correct this egregious situation. He takes on the myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions about blindness and artfully debunks them all one by one. Omvig takes on the flawed and failed methodologies of the blindness system and exposes them all for what they are. However, Omvig doesn't just point out the fallacies in the system. He offers specific techniques and outlines an entire program for the successful adjustment to blindness for both children and adults. He describes a philosophy and practice to achieve mental, emotional, physical, and psychological freedom for blind people.

Some in the blindness system will take exception to all or part of this message. Omvig has not written this monograph to please the establishment. Sometimes the truth hurts, and he does not mince his words. He takes the system to task for its inherent failures and chastises those who perpetuate learned dependency and helplessness, including some blind people themselves. In many quarters of the blindness system this work will be dismissed for its unpopular stance toward the status quo. It will also be criticized for its lack of research-based support and for some of the specific training techniques Omvig espouses.

However, as Omvig articulately points out, the truth about blindness is deceptively simple, and the concepts which lead to increased personal independence, authentic informed choice, and true empowerment for blind people are logical, proven, and uncomplicated. The alternative techniques of blindness are well known and reliable. The road to independence and freedom has been traveled by many successful blind people over the years and continues to be traveled today. What concerns the author, and should concern the reader and every person connected to the present-day blindness system, is that statistics show that fewer blind people are living independent, productive, self-fulfilled lives than should be the case.

Omvig explores the reasons why the system has failed its clients so miserably. He explains what blindness really is and how, through proper training, stereotypic thinking and attitudes about blindness can be overcome. He describes the stages on the road to independence and the empowerment motive which service-providers must exemplify. Throughout the book Omvig turns the tables on the blindness system and the sighted community, making the tired clichÚs so often cited for retaining the same old stereotypic attitudes toward blindness seem ridiculous and absurd.

Those of us who know Omvig can hear his strong, unwavering, passionate voice speaking these words directly to us in a conversation or a lecture or a lesson. His recollections and experiences enrich his presentation and illustrate his message. Life has taught him well. Now he seeks to share the freedom he has achieved with every blind person in America. "Freedom, once tasted, is irresistible, and it can fuel the passion and give birth and hope to the dream." The dream has been very well articulated in Freedom for the Blind. He believes that the age of enlightenment in working with the blind is at hand. Let us hope and pray that he is right. In Freedom for the Blind Omvig has made a noteworthy contribution to the cause.

Editor's Note: As we were going to press, we learned that the Regional Continuing Educational Program (RCEP) for RSA Region 6, located at the University of Arkansas, has published Jim Omvig's book. It is also now available on the RCEP Web site. The address is <www.rcep6.org>. Just follow the links.

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