Raise Expectations During Blind Equality Achievement Month
By Cricket Bidleman
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I answered that question innumerable times as a child. I wanted to be Stevie Wonder, because that’s what I heard that all blind kids should aspire to. Sometimes I wanted to be a lawyer, because lots of blind people do that. When I wanted to be a physics professor… that’s when I faced resistance, because “Blind people don’t do science. Science is too visual.”
Looking back on all those conversations, I recognize my privilege. People told me that I couldn’t be a scientist, much less teach science, as a blind person. They never told me that I would have difficulty being gainfully employed. Yet, that is something that an estimated 80 percent of blind people are not.
Blind people are underemployed, even more so than people with other kinds of disabilities. This is partly because non-blind people fear blindness more than detrimental health conditions, and in some cases more than death itself. Non-blind people don’t understand how we do even basic things. I’ve been asked how I read, cook, eat, shower, all manner of things that one does not need sight for. This condition of sightlessness is apparently so unfathomable that it’s difficult for our counterparts to even imagine how one might approach life without vision. Why would the non-blind employ the blind if they don’t understand how we live without this sense that they find integral to life?
No one should equate blindness with the end of a productive life. By perpetuating that perception, we are allowing others to define us. Consider this from our President, Mark Riccobono: “The definition of blind is best shaped by our lived experience, not by the misperceptions of those who have not lived with the characteristic of blindness every day.” He goes on to say that for those who become blind later in life, “It is a new beginning, not an end.”
Toward that end, the National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not our defining characteristic. This is so apparent at our national conventions, where we can meet blind professionals in all fields. At my first national convention, I met blind scientists, computer scientists, engineers, artists, accountants—all professions that others would have discouraged me from pursuing because they are “too visual.” The Federation shows everyone that given proper accommodations, blind people can live the lives we want as fully integrated, productive citizens.
October is both Blind Equality Achievement Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This October, we offer our blind jobseekers an opportunity to attend our Fall Career Fair, which is both free and virtual. I started working here at the National Federation of the Blind after our career fair last year. We expect employers from across the country to attend, offering positions of all types (including some remote ones). Jobseekers can register here.
On a large scale, Blind Equality Achievement Month is about celebrating the milestones that blind people have achieved, despite the obstacles and low expectations that others impose on us, often without our consent. We should bask in the progress along our journey to equality, security, and opportunity for all blind people. Across the country, our affiliate and chapters are hosting outreach opportunities to connect with the local communities.
So why a month? Our work is constant, and that is exactly why we should take this month to celebrate. While we work towards progress throughout the rest of the year, we focus this time for bringing in new people who may not know about blindness and our movement. Blind Equality Achievement Month is our time to make them aware, to help them understand our perspective, and hopefully to recruit active engagement to our cause.
I want to circle back to what I said earlier. People don’t like the concept of being blind, which is why part of our mission is demonstrating that it’s okay to be blind. Being blind is not inherently bad. It’s just different, and life is harder because people don’t understand us or our needs. We must talk about blindness to normalize it. That conversation starts with you.
If you have the energy, I encourage you to start that dialogue with someone. You could do that via phone, email, social media, or just in everyday conversation. On social media, we’re using the hashtag #BlindMonth. We can conquer this global fear of blindness by raising expectations, one conversation at a time.