Future Reflections January/February 1983, Vol. 2 No. 1
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In the July "Myths & Facts ..." feature, we printed an excerpt from Dr. Jernigan's article, "A Definition of Blindness." We then promised to follow that in the Oct/Nov issue with some more discussion about myths and facts relating to partial vision. We did not have space in the Oct/Nov issue to do that, so we are doing it in this issue. We do suggest that you read, or re-read, the "Definition of Blindness" from the July issue. If you do not have that issue, you may order it at no cost, by writing to:
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Jefferson City, MO 65102
If my child has some usable sight, he should certainly rely on that sight at every opportunity. If we expect him to use Braille or other blind techniques, we are making him blind when he really isn't.
The methods your child uses in school and in life do not change his physical characteristics. If his vision is, say 20/200, it will be 20/200 regardless of whether he reads print or Braille.
What is affected by methods, though, is his achievement and cempetence. Let's say he can read 100 words per minute in large print, and could learn to read several hundred words per minute in Braille (a common situation). The choice is not, "Will he be more blind or less blind?" The choice is, "Will he be able to achieve more things, more easily, by using efficient techniques -- or will he be severely limited by trying to use sight when it is inadequate?" Or, putting it another way, "Will he be a capable blind person or a not-so-capable blind person?"
He is not any "less blind" if he struggles to use sighted techniques which are not suitable for him. Of course, the use of vision should be encouraged where it is efficient and appropriate to do so.
Only those who are totally blind can receive services from agencies and teachers for the blind.
Anyone who has real difficulty using vision to perform the activities of daily life is probably eligible for such services. Inquire of your local agencies, and ask the National Federation of the Blind for help in resolving any problems of eligibility.
When a child with some sight hears the word "blind" applied to her, she will certainly be discouraged and frightened. Therefore we should avoid using the word "blind" and instead use a term such as "visually impaired."
In the first place, a child views blindness in the way in which she has been taught and shown examples. If the youngster has met competent and personable blind people; and if the word "blind" is used in a matter-of-fact way, as though describing height or any other characteristic, then she will probably not find the term upsetting. If, on the other hand, there are no competent persons on the scene who really rely on blind techniques; and adults go to great lengths to avoid using the word "blind", then the youngsters will learn that there is much fear and shame associated with blindness.
Indeed, the youngster may actually be reassured to be regarded as "blind". This helps her to realize that she is not expected to rely on her sight when it is inadequate. It frees her to learn and develop alternative techniques not based on sight.
If the rules don't say that you have to be totally blind to receive services from an agency for the blind, then they at least say that your vision must be 20/200 or less.
The visual acuity figure 20/200 is indeed a part of the definition of legal blindness in regards to eligibility for some services. However, the full phrasing of that definition also includes persons with a severely restricted field of vision. Again, in practice, agencies are generally able to serve all those who have real difficulty using vision to perform the activities of daily life, as well as those who are losing vision and soon will have such difficulty.