Braille Monitor                                             May 2015

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Blind People and Talking Dogs

by Dick Davis

Dick DavisFrom the Editor: Dick Davis chairs the National Federation of the Blind’s employment committee and will soon retire from BLIND, Incorporated after a long and distinguished career in work with the blind. He is the assistant director for employment at BLIND, Inc., and as a sighted advocate he wrote a response to the question of why there aren’t more blind executives. Undoubtedly many issues come into play when talking about employment and advancement, and I hope that this piece will start an in-depth discussion about what we can do to realize the dream of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and other founders who believed that a job, a home, and the right to participate in the community were the reasons for the creation of the organization and the movement it represents. Here is Dick’s take on the issue:

I like the article Michelle Clark recently posted on the NFB Jobs Listserv, “Where Are the CEOs and Executive Managers with Disabilities?” by John D. Kemp, president and CEO of The Viscardi Center. You can read it at <https://usodep.blogs.govdelivery.com/2015/03/13/where-are-the-ceos-and-executive-managers-with-disabilities/>.

Mr. Kemp, who has four prostheses, asks a valid question: why are disabled people being left out of executive and management jobs?

I think it is because most people look at blind and disabled individuals as “talking dogs.” What do I mean by that? There is an old saying, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, that the remarkable thing about a talking dog is not what it says but the fact that it talks at all. Public expectations are so low that anything a person with a disability can do is thought to be remarkable. But “talking dogs” never make it to the higher echelons of any organization. They are curiosities at best.

A few years ago one of our local television stations did an article on Disability Employment Awareness Month. It featured an enclave of developmentally disabled people who were able to get part-time jobs cleaning the equipment in a local gym. The anchors were so touched that they almost cried. I didn’t throw a shoe through our TV screen, nor did I attempt to explain to the station that what they had done was worse than if they had done nothing at all. Weren’t those disabled people remarkable? No, they weren’t. They were “talking dogs,” trotted out once again so that people could marvel at the little things they could do.

We must really ditch this charity thing. No employer hires a person because it feels sorry for him or her. And the ADA, although helpful from a legal sense, has not been the employment panacea that many people thought it would be. In my opinion the diversity movement has more potential, because employers have not been trained to hate the diversity movement like they have the ADA. The healthy thing about the diversity movement is that it teaches that difference is not a weakness but a strength, and blind people are definitely perceived as different.

My belief is that blind people are stronger than sighted people, because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Dealing successfully with blindness through effective training makes a person more creative, more organized, more persistent, tougher, a faster computer user (no mouse to slow you down), and better in a whole host of other ways. Blind people are definitely the better hire. If you really think about it, you will come to realize it is true. Many sighted people lack those mind-and-character-building experiences and in my opinion are weaker as a result. So instead of thinking of blindness as a disability, maybe we should think of sightedness as one instead. In my opinion blind people belong at the top.

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