The Braille Monitor                                                                                       June 2003

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What Is This World Coming To?

by Olegario D. Cantos VII

Ollie Cantos
Ollie Cantos

From the Editor: The following article is reprinted from the Spring 2003 issue of the NFB Vigilant, the publication of the NFB of Virginia. Ollie Cantos is general counsel and director of programs for the American Association of People with Disabilities in Washington, D.C. A former state and national scholarship winner and originally from California, he now lives in Arlington, Virginia, and is active in his local chapter of the NFB. This is what he says:

I should begin by asserting that I have certain beliefs about blindness--beliefs that have changed over time. Some people may agree with me while others may hold contrasting views. Especially those who have known me for many years may frankly be surprised to see what I now think; my opinions are strong and in some circles may elicit controversy.

Over a two-day period recently a series of events occurred that gave me cause to wonder what this world is coming to. Since I use a long white cane, it is apparent to people that I am blind. The things that happened to me were small events that might almost have gone unnoticed, yet their very occurrence made me notice how much things have now changed.

It all started one Friday morning, not unlike any other day. First, fighting the urge to hit the snooze button just one more time so I could sleep for five more precious minutes, I finally rolled out of bed and got ready for work. Then I was on my way.

The Metropolitan Washington, D.C., area has a strong public transportation infrastructure, with many bus lines and an extensive subway system called the Metro. During rush hour the trains run roughly every three to four minutes, and they are typically extremely crowded, especially during the 8:00 hour. When I approached the fare gate, the Metro station manager never offered to assist me through, even though the crowds were hectic. Once I got through the gate and made my way toward the escalator, in spite of all the people around me, not even one pointed out that I was coming close to the moving stairway. When I did make my way down the escalator, I was just in time to catch the next train, which was approaching at that very moment. Once the doors opened, no one made an effort to help me find the door. In fact, I had to locate it myself. Upon boarding the packed train, I stood along with many other people. Near the door are seats above which appear signs clearly stating that people who sit there should give priority to seniors and to people with disabilities. Yet no one offered to give up his or her seat, so I stood all the way to my Metro stop, a ride of about twenty minutes. Even when the people in the designated seats stood up to disembark, others who were closer to the seats just took them for themselves, never once offering me the opportunity to sit down, even though my cane made it obvious that I was blind and covered by Metro's priority seating policy.

Upon reaching my stop, I stepped off the train. Again, no one even offered to direct me to my Metro exit. Not one person asked me which exit I wanted, followed by the question, "Do you need help getting there?" Instead, they went on their way and did not offer to assist me in the least.

Traveling up a set of escalators, I had to follow others almost in single file. No one offered to allow me to go ahead of him or her. The same thing happened when I made my way up a second set of escalators that took me to the street level. As I walked to the corner along with a number of other rushing people, I did not receive even one offer of assistance in the form of advice about when it was safe to cross the busy intersection. "My gosh! What is this world coming to," I thought.

Later, at the end of what felt like a very long workday, I decided to go get a bite to eat. Because of the popularity of the restaurant to which I was going (the Cheesecake Factory), the waiting time was quite extensive. To be seated, individuals or groups were placed on a list and seated in first-come, first-served order. That evening I was dining alone. Though I was using my white cane, I was not seated ahead of anyone else. The greeter just took my name down and said, "Alright, sir, the waiting time is approximately forty-five minutes." And wait I did.

Luckily for me, in spite of the long wait and long dinner, I still had time to catch a late movie. When I got in line to buy a ticket, nobody invited me to move in front of him or her. Then, when I finally got to the ticket window, in spite of recognizing that I was blind, the box office cashier charged me full price. She did not even consider the fact that I am blind and would not be able physically to see the movie for which I was paying admission.

The next day I needed to do some laundry. I made my way to the apartment's common area laundry room with full hands. I had a laundry bag in one hand and my cane in the other. Other apartment residents were obviously using their Saturday to do their laundry too. Though they were strangers, I greeted them with hellos just to be neighborly. In a friendly way they greeted me in kind, but never at any point did they offer to help me find an empty machine or offer to show me how they worked. They just went about their business. As was the case the day before, I wondered, "What is this world coming to?" I could not help wondering why all of this had happened to me. What had I done to deserve such treatment? Why was I in these altered situations with increasing regularity? Why didn't people even stop to think about my blindness when I was using a cane more than five-and-a-half feet long?

Before reading on, pause and think carefully about your perceptions of my situation. I firmly believe that what took place illustrates the progress that blind people have made because of the National Federation of the Blind! For decades, since this organization's founding, we have battled hard for first-class citizenship, the central philosophy of which asserted that blind people should have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. Blindness, we assert, can be reduced to a nuisance when people are given the proper training in basic skills and the opportunity to succeed. Insistence on equality of opportunity has been the thrust behind our collective decision to organize and to speak for ourselves. My experience during these two days proves more than ever that equality is already well within our grasp. We do not seek special treatment, and we do not seek handouts. Instead we are determined to earn the same rights and carry the same responsibilities of citizenship as our sighted neighbors. And we will do so with vigor, determination, a fire in our hearts, and a positive philosophy of blindness that enables us to carry ourselves with confidence.

So in response to the question what is this world coming to, I believe I have the answer. It is maturing to the point where blindness is as incidental and commonplace to those around us as we ourselves find it. We enjoy more opportunities today than at any other point in history. Better still, while blind people continue to stop the cycle of negative attitudes leading to limited success in themselves, the same change of attitude has been taking place in the general public, since our words and actions are demonstrating this philosophy to be both time-tested and true. Make no mistake about it. The world has changed for the better because of the National Federation of the Blind.

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