Photo of Christine Faltz and her daughter Samantha

		Christine Faltz and her daughter Samantha.



         The Whole Truth About Partial Sight

                       by Christine Faltz

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     From the Editor: Christine Faltz is a 1987 NFB scholarship

winner. She has since become a lawyer, has married, and is the

mother of a little girl who is also blind. Christine often writes

about blindness issues and the challenges of raising a blind

child to be a normal kid. Here is an article she wrote last

summer:

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     As President of the Long Island Chapter of Parents of Blind

Children, I am often contacted by parents in search of resources

and information for their children. While I have been aware for

some time that blind people with usable residual vision face

special problems, I am becoming increasingly conscious of the

many negative consequences of the mainstream's handling of

partially-sighted people.
     Let me be clear. I am not particularly concerned with the

individual whose residual vision allows him or her to perform

most of life's tasks with age-appropriate skill and efficiency.

If a legally blind or low-vision child is using regular print or

large type without magnification and without fatigue or pain, and

if he or she can travel independently and safely in unfamiliar

areas, the alternative techniques of blindness may well not be

necessary. However, when I hear that a child cannot read

efficiently without magnification and that inability to keep up

with assignments in school is accepted as a natural consequence

of visual difficulties, I am deeply troubled by the culture of

denial, fear, and misinformation which will ultimately result in

a young person ill-equipped for college, employment, or community

involvement.
     Why do teachers, eye-care specialists, and some parents

choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence that a blind person

without proficient Braille and independent mobility skills is

significantly less likely to become gainfully employed? How could

an efficient reading system such as Braille and a safe, effective

travel tool like the white cane engender mistrust and fear so

intimidating and distasteful that thousands of men and women are

robbed of the chance to take advantage of their full potential,

growing to believe that it is normal for them to be slow,

inefficient, uncomfortable, and in need of extraordinary

accommodations? What about their inability to read to their

children--if indeed they have the self-esteem and wherewithal to

create a family--and their avoidance of socializing except in

familiar areas because they cannot travel independently?
     Part of the problem lies in the definition of legal

blindness. Many people are functionally blind, despite having

visual acuity above that of legal blindness. Another complication

is society's fear of anything it doesn't understand. I often hear

"This is a difficult age" or "I tried Braille with him; he didn't

want any part of it." A teen-ager who refuses cane instruction

because he or she will look different is going to progress from a

difficult age to a difficult life of dependency and inability to

experience the full range of possibilities for employment and

recreation because he or she cannot go wherever the best job

interview or the best party is. Is it better to rely on your

friends, dates, and colleagues to get you around, or is it better

to be a competent, confident traveler, eventually more or less

oblivious to your travel tool as it becomes a part of you?
     When a child resists learning math because it seems too

difficult or because there is something more fun to do at the

moment, we don't give in; we should treat students who don't like

learning Braille the same way. It is often difficult for parents

to envision their children as adults, and it is common to have

the not-my-child attitude--after all, if you act as if your child

can do anything despite being afflicted with pesky visual

problems, won't he or she have the confidence to persevere and

succeed? You bet! assuming that child is also equipped with the

necessary tools to put such values into practice. You can tell

the child of a broken home who attends a poor school in a

dangerous neighborhood that with belief in oneself one can

surmount any personal obstacles. But if his or her performance is

not commensurate with inherent ability and if a lackluster

performance is pronounced to be "just fine" and "all one can

expect from someone in such a situation," where will all those

fine words and good intentions get the student?
     It is not acceptable for a child with poor vision to skate

by, depending on special allowances and privileges, if he or she

is capable of age-appropriate work. A child who is functionally

blind and has average to above-average intelligence and no

complicating disabilities should be handing in school assignments

with everyone else, should not be fatigued by reading, and should

be completing reading assignments along with sighted classmates.

A child who struggles valiantly to keep excellent grades,

suffering with eyestrain and headaches; spending inordinate

amounts of time on homework; relying on parents, siblings, or

classmates to read to him; unable to read the notes and papers

she writes--is not amazing or extraordinary for all those

unnecessary, Herculean efforts. That child is a casualty of fear

and ignorance, someone losing out on extracurricular and other

social activities, someone whose belief in his or her supposed

self-worth and equality is being challenged at every level. The

lack of normal vision will never be a nuisance, an inconvenience

to this person: it will be a lifelong social and employment

handicap, a source of increasing frustration and resentment--a

recipe for failure at worst and of untapped potential at best.
     Parents and teachers must look beyond the here and now. When

they are gone, their children and students must be able to live,

not merely survive, on their own. Their lives should not be

peppered with "If onlys" and "What ifs." They should not grow up

with the notion that there was nothing more anyone could have

done to give them opportunities equal to those available to their

sighted peers. Any skill which has the slightest chance of easing

their way should be developed in them while they are young. Isn't

it better that they have the skills, regardless of whether they

are necessary now? Shouldn't a disabled child be given every

reasonable chance to be fully equal, fully independent, a fully

contributing, first-class citizen? Legally blind, low vision,

partially sighted, practically blind--the lexicon of political

correctness, euphemisms, and denial marches on. If your child is

not capable of age-appropriate work and play, vision problems by

themselves are no excuse. Partial sight should not be allowed to

result in a partial life.

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