Braille Monitor                                                                  July 1985

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They Put on Blindfolds and Play at Being Blind

Brockton, Massachusetts
April 22, 1985

Dean Dunivan
Dean of Student Affairs'
Massoiet Community College
Brockton, Massachusetts

Dear Dean Dunivan:

I am writing you with my concerns about the "disability awareness day" held at the college on April 10, 1985. You know my feelings on the role reversal theme; and in reference to our meeting on April 9, 1985, you stated that you were reversing your word to me about eliminating the role reversing concerning the blind because I was the only one to speak up against it. Please read the enclosed resolution 82-02 of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, adopted in October, 1982. The NFB is the largest consumer group of blind persons in the world, with over 1,200 members in Massachusetts alone. Therefore, I was not the only one offended by your actions on the tenth. As I have said before, impressions are lasting, and I thought the overall day went well with the follwing exceptions: 1) The only blindfolded sighted person I saw refused to talk with me, but I observed him deliberately walking into walls, bumping into people, and hitting people with his cane--in short, making a mockery of the whole thing. 2) The two people I talked to in wheelchairs spoke as follows: "Boy, this is a blast. I really feel sorry for people who have to live like this."

There are two ways to put on a demonstration of this kind: The first, "Look at what you are missing." The second, "See what you are missing, but see what you can accomplish with training." I think you put on a great demonstration of the first. Though I am opposed to both, I am less opposed to the second. Overall, as I said before, I thought the day went well; but the damage done by the few lasts longer than the good intentions of the rest. I would like you to read the enclosed resolution and materials. If you have any questions or comments, please call me.

"We know who we are, and we will never go back."

Sincerely yours,

Charles E. Flanagan, Jr.

National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts
Resolution 82-02

Whereas, a principal activity of the National Federation of the Blind is its vigorous campaign to dispel forever from the public mind the many myths and misconceptions about blindness that have blighted the lives of blind people for far too long, and to replace these negative notions with the more upbeat understanding that the blind are normal people who cannot see--people who, with proper training and the chance to do so, can live full, productive lives and take their rightful place in society, exercising all of the rights and meeting all of the responsibilities of first-class citizenship; and

Whereas, the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, largely though its public relations program, has worked hard to spread this positive message throughout the state, and the blind of Massachusetts have better lives as a result of this effort; and

Whereas, the inherently difficult task of uprooting attitudes that went almost unchallenged for thousands of years is made harder when agencies established to serve the blind, or other organizations or individuals that have chosen to concern themselves with the blind, sponsor or participate in activities that reinforce these same attitudes, which constitute the primary problem of blindness; and

Whereas, among the most misguided and harmful activities of this kind is the simulation of blindness by a sighted person to raise funds for an agency doing work with the blind or to increase public awareness of blind people; and

Whereas, individuals who have put on blindfolds and sometimes have tried to use canes for a few hours or a few days typically and erroneously infer that their fear and disorientation during that time are parts of the lifelong experience of all blind people and that blindness must be quite a tragedy, indeed; and

Whereas, the Federation has warned repeatedly that one cannot draw valid conclusions about blindness or the abilities of blind people from data acquired from studies in which the subjects were blindfolded sighted people who had no training in the use of the tools and techniques needed to function efficiently without sight; and

Whereas, the print and broadcast media often find simulations of blindness appealing and newsworthy since these events play pathetically to the tune of the old melodramatic image of life as a blind person, and it seems easier to fall into the trap of mistaken tradition than to grasp the simple fact of the normality of the blind;

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts in convention assembled this 10th day of October, 1982, in Chicopee, Massachusetts, that this organization deplore the use of any ill conceived publicity stunt, such as the simulation of blindness, as a gimmick to raise money for an agency doing work with the blind or as part of an event purporting to enlighten the public about the needs and problems of the blind; and

Be It Further Resolved that the officers and members of this organization (especially the director of its public relations program) contact the newspapers and the radio and television stations within Massachusetts, taking them to task when they pay undue attention to such counterproductive publicity stunts and working with them to insure that they will learn to report on events affecting blind people with a better understanding of our real problems; and

Be It Further Resolved that no member of this organization who participates in an event that includes the simulation of blindness by a sighted person may do so as a representative of the Federation.