Future Reflections Spring 1992, Vol. 11 No. 2

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PARENT EDUCATES FAIRYLAND ABOUT BLINDNESS

by Dianne Millner

[PICTURE] Dianne's daughter, Ashley, plays with her Mardi Gras beads at the 1991 NFB Convention in New Orleans

     Editor's Note: The basic job of a parent of a blind child is the same as it is for other parents--to prepare that child for independency and self-sufficiency as an adult. Granted, the task is complicated by the fact that most parents never asked for this job, and have little notion of how to begin raising a blind child. Many parents also lack the benefit of knowledgeable, skilled professionals who could make the task easier (not infrequently, the professionals actually make it harder.) But once parents realize that the goal is the same--only the means of getting there is sometimes different--then everything begins to fall into place. But the parent who stops here has only completed half the job.

     What's the other half? It is this. Like other minorities—such as African-Americans, Hispanics--the blind face prejudice and discrimination. Granted, it does not usually come in the form of hatred and bigotry. However, pity, ignorance, and condescension can keep a blind person from getting job, renting an apartment, or flying unharrassed on a plane just as surely as hatred and racism keeps other minorities from full participation in society. Like parents of other minority groups, parents of blind children must wrestle with such questions as: How do I build self-esteem and confidence in my child when those around him/her act in such a way to tear it down? How do I prepare my child to recognize and face prejudice and discrimination as an adult, without crushing her/his spirit? and, What can I do to change attitudes so that my child will have more opportunities for full participation in society than do the blind adults of today?

     Though her daughter is still only a preschooler, Dianne Millner of Oakland, California has already come to grips with the second half of her job. Perhaps it is because she found the National Federation of the Blind early in her daughter's life. Perhaps is it is because she is an African-American and is therefore especially sensitive to this need. Whatever the reason or reasons, Dianne takes her task of educating the public about blindness seriously. Here is a letter she sent last summer to the director of Children's Fairyland in Oakland, California. As you read it, consider the impact just one letter, like this one, can have on people's attitude about blindness and disabilities in general.

     Educating the public about blindness is not somebody else's job. It is our job. By taking personal responsibility, and combining our efforts with others through the National Federation of the Blind Parents Division, it is possible that our children will enter society as adults on a level of equality never before known by the blind of the world. Here is Dianne Millner's letter:

July 22, 1991

Herbye White, Director
Oakland Office of Parks and Recreation
Oakland, California 94612

Dear Mr. White:

     A few months ago I investigated the possibility of having a birthday party for my daughter at Children's Fairyland. I was very impressed with the facilities and agreed to reserve a catered birthday party on Sunday, July 21.

We were pleased to be informed that our birthday party participants could attend one of your daily puppet shows and that my daughter would be acknowledged at the beginning and given a special key to operate some of the attractions.

On Sunday, July 21, my daughter and her friends eagerly awaited the puppet show as part of their birthday party activities. My daughter was very excited to be called to the stage and given her special key. She then sat down with her friends and waited with anticipation to watch the puppet show. I had told her that the puppet show would be "Pinocchio" and gave her a brief description of the story.

We were all having a very good time until the point in the show when two characters came out, one who described himself as "lame" and another with a big sign across his chest labeled "BLIND." We were further dismayed to hear the characters explain that they had become lame and blind as a sort of punishment or consequence of some act.

Although we are sure that the performers did not intend to offend anyone, the characters and the messages that they portrayed nevertheless were very damaging. They said to the small children at the puppet show that: (1.) being lame or blind is terrible and horrifying; and (2.) these maladies are punishments for something that a person did wrong.

You see, Mr. White, my daughter (who was called to the stage that morning) is an ordinary preschooler who happens to be blind. Her blindness is an inconvenience at times but certainly it is not a terrible malady-- blindness is a normal characteristic that occurs in the human population as do other disabilities. She was more like the other preschoolers sitting at the puppet show than different from them. Moreover, she is not blind because she did anything bad and became blind as a punishment.

The reason we are pointing this out to you is not to condemn or chastise your performers. We merely hope that you will modify this part of the performance so that it does not convey or reinforce to very impressionable youngsters (and their parents) negative stereotypes about disabilities or make children with disabilities feel bad about themselves.

People often reject such criticism on the basis that we should not change the traditional way of telling stories. The facts are, however, that some traditional stories are insensitive and inaccurate and either should not be told or should be modified, especially when they are being told to young children. There are alternative non-demeaning ways to convey the same idea that the performers would like to convey in the play without using
these characters.

For your information, I am enclosing a short commentary on the often cited "The Blind Men and the Elephant" story [from Future Reflections] in which the author was able to
convince a speaker to convey the same story idea but in a positive and non-insulting manner.

We hope that you will give this matter serious attention and look forward to hearing back from you.

Very truly yours,

Alexander, Millner & McGee
Dianne M. Millner

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