Braille Monitor                          March 2020

(back) (contents) (next)

Live the Life You Want: A Choice or a Prescription for Being an Elite Blind Person

by Gary Wunder

Gary WunderWhen I was asked to be a part of coming up with branding messages and we selected “Live the Life You Want,” I was keenly aware that anything we chose would perpetuate the questions folks on the outside have always had about us: Is the Federation’s goal to help blind people travel their own path, or is it the Federation telling blind folks how to live? I knew that the way people perceived a message was everything and feared that if it took much explaining, it wouldn't be the right tagline. My concern didn’t spring from some innate ability to predict the future but from living through some of our past.

I clearly remember other messages that tried to briefly speak to our mission and work—nowadays called an elevator speech. If you only get the time it takes to go from floor three to four, can you briefly explain what this organization that means so much to you does and why others might want to help further its goals?

"We are Changing What It Means to be Blind" was a phrase I liked very much. It was on the lips of many of my generation in the movement. But the problem with it was that too many people thought we were pledging to change visual acuity, and it took too much time to explain that it was social change that filled our agenda. Then there was "It is Respectable to be Blind," the reaction to the fact that some didn't believe that people perceived as broken could ever garner true acceptance and respect. But some folks objected to this one because they thought we were saying that the mere presence of blindness in one’s life conveyed respectability. They agreed that being blind didn't preclude being respectable but neither did it convey respectability
The criticism of our tagline isn't the five words "Live the Life You Want." It is the suspicion that what we really mean is that blind people are to live their lives in such a way that they become the elite blind, the people who go further than anyone expects, the people who are admired by all because of their undeniable intellect, motivation, and accomplishment. To some extent I understand the concern and the way that some have elevated it to a criticism. Every civil rights organization pushes its people to go beyond where they are. All of us believe that many of the things that keep us from being all we can be are socially constructed barriers. But beyond this, most people involved in civil rights also believe that part of the problem we face comes from buying the societal expectations that do so much to limit us. So yes, there is upward pressure to do more and be more, but no organization encouraging the advancement of a class is free from this expectation.

For me our tagline asks each of us to exercise some faith: faith that we will help when one of us encounters problems in living the life they want, and faith that each of us can dare to dream and dare to act on those dreams. Not every dream will come true, and not every dream is meant to. As a youngster I dreamed of being an astronaut, and that hasn't happened. But many of my generation shared that dream, and only a small number achieved it. Blindness certainly precluded me from flying in space, but so too did a number of things: the few positions there were to be had, the training that was required, and even the height and weight requirements that were and probably still are a part of the program.

Nobody in the Federation has ever questioned what I have wanted or done in my life except a dear friend who once told me that before writing a book about myself, I’d first need to do something worth writing about. My Federation colleagues, friends, and family have asked me to be honest in distinguishing between real accomplishments and the faint praise I can easily get by being blind. They have asked that I look at the things I have in my life and try to see that others have it at least as good, and they have allowed me to participate in something I believe makes that possible.

At least from my perspective as the editor of this publication, I welcome articles from people whose aspirations and achievements vary widely. If you volunteer for an organization that values your work and gives you satisfaction, write us. If you work a job that pays at or slightly above minimum wage and you have a story to tell about how you do it as a blind person, write us. If there is something you do in lieu of paid employment and there are good reasons why you don't pursue something that pays, tell us about it. If you have tried and failed and there may be a way we can help or benefit from your experience, together let’s put that out for public discussion and concerted action.

Please don't assume that because you don't see articles about people like you, it is because we actively discourage them or outright turn them down. I believe we mean what we say in our tagline and that we find value in anyone brave enough to dream, brave enough to try, and brave enough to share their story with blind people who share in common this pledge of helping each blind person live the life they want.

Media Share

Facebook Share

(back) (contents) (next)