The Braille Monitor                                                                                               April 1997

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Helping the Sighted to See

From the Editor: Week in and week out one of the most important jobs Federationists are called upon to undertake is educating the public. Not only do uninformed people need help recognizing the very real and substantial problems facing blind people, but often they require instruction to comprehend what they are actually looking at. When the instruction is of this latter kind, it requires great tact not to embarrass ignorant but well-meaning citizens unnecessarily. This challenge faced members of the National Federation of the Blind of Alaska on July 14, 1996. On that day the editorial page of the Anchorage Daily News included the following letter:

Obstacles Menace the Blind

Recently I was looking out my office window at the corner of Fourth Avenue and H Street and noticed there were several blind people walking down the street. My attention was drawn to one man in particular because he was having an extremely difficult time maneuvering around the planter area at the new courthouse, and on two occasions he actually stumbled over the planter.

I became even more concerned as I continued to watch this gentleman. He managed to get across H Street without incident, but when he got back on Fourth Avenue, he became disoriented when he got to the Pioneer Bar because he got caught between the wooden Indian's arm and the sidewalk advertisement. He had a very difficult time getting his bearings because of all the obstacles that are sitting out on Fourth Avenue. It broke my heart as I watched him try to make his way down Fourth Avenue.

I realize that businesses are entitled to advertise, but shouldn't they be required to do so in such a way that people won't be injured? These sidewalk advertisements are certainly harmless enough to sighted people, but they are a definite menace to the blind.

I hope the businesses on Fourth Avenue and elsewhere will take note and move their sidewalk signs out of the way of the blind.

Faye Stevens, Anchorage

That's what Ms. Stevens said, and Melody Lindsey, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Alaska responded in a letter published July 21:

Problem for Blind Not on Street

I am responding to Faye Stevens's letter of July 14, from the perspective of one of the other blind persons who was with the individual she described. When I first read her letter, I was perplexed, but I have decided that she has provided an opportunity to educate the public about blindness.

Ms. Stevens wrote that she saw "several blind people" walking down Fourth and H. However, her attention was focused on one individual who appeared to have trouble negotiating the sidewalk displays. What about the other blind people? Did she wonder what the difference was between the way they traveled and the apparent difficulty the one individual was having? I submit that the difference lies in the experience, confidence, and skill that blind people choose to acquire.

I encountered the same obstacles as the person Ms. Stevens observed, yet I had the skills and confidence to conclude that I needed to go around them just as everyone else does. I may not be able to ascertain information visually, but by using the cane, I can find objects on the sidewalk and deduce that they are not going to get up and move solely for my convenience.

The only way that blind people can obtain good problem- solving skills is by working through difficulties that arise and moving on. If someone is always there to correct problems for them, they will never gain accuracy and confidence in their own capabilities. The real obstacles to the blind include misconceptions about blindness, lack of opportunity, unemployment, lack of quality training, and lack of high expectations by society in general.

If the physical barriers on Fourth and H were the only ones we had to deal with, we would be in pretty good shape economically and socially. To the businesses along these streets I say: please do not move your displays solely to help the blind.

I would like to invite Ms. Stevens and anyone else who would like to learn more about the blind to call the National Federation of the Blind of Alaska office at 566- 2620. I believe that together we can change what it means to be blind.

Melody Lindsey, President National Federation of the Blind of Alaska

In the same spirit and also on July 21, Tracy Kuzara, a travel teacher who had been with the group Ms. Stevens observed, added her perspective to the discussion. This is what she said:

Blind Students Are Learning

I am writing in response to Faye Stevens's letter of July 14. I was also there that day on Fourth Avenue when she saw that blind man "having difficulty." She didn't mention the several other blind people who were having no difficulty whatsoever. They were getting around with much ease.

I work at the school where these individuals are learning the alternative techniques for everyday living. On that particular day there were two instructors with the students out on Fourth Avenue.

Yes, walking around on the streets and around wooden Indians happens to be one of the things they learn. Although mistakes may happen from time to time, I don't feel that the signs should be moved. The students are learning how to maneuver around these types of obstacles. While they are out walking and find an obstacle with the cane such as a wooden Indian or a planter, they can figure their own way around it without someone yelling, grabbing, or pulling on them.

Blind people should be treated with the same respect you would like to receive as a sighted person. I know that Ms. Stevens was writing out of concern. But please realize that if the signs were a menace to the blind, we would take measures to have them moved, but they are not.

The blind should be able to go where they want when they want just as the sighted do. They don't want special treatment; treat them as you would any other person. If they have questions, they will ask you for assistance.

Tracy Kuzara, Anchorage

Have you considered leaving a gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will? By preparing a will now, you can assure that those administering your estate will avoid unnecessary delays, legal complications, and substantial tax costs. A will is a common device used to leave a substantial gift to charity. A gift in your will to the NFB can be of any size and will be used to help blind people. Here are some useful hints in preparing your will:

* Make a list of everything you want to leave (your estate).

*Decide how and to whom you want to leave these assets.

* Consult an attorney (one you know or one we can help you find).

* Make certain you thoroughly understand your will before you sign it.

For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.