The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children
Vol. 2, No. 4 July/August 1983
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Copyright © 1983 National Federation of the Blind
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2360
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Vol. 2, No. 4 July/ August 1983
Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic
I'm a Blind Mother Trying to keep My Children from Corruption
Blindness--Simplicity, Complexity and the Public Mind
Complete Future Reflections
Complete Future Reflections - Zip file (WORD)
Many of the subscription requests we receive from parents come with a little note saying something like this, "For the benefit of my child, I want to learn as much about blindness as I can." This issue is dedicated to those parents and their children. We hope you will read it and ponder it as you search for the ways you can best help your child.
FROM THE EDITOR
This issue departs some from the format we have been using for Future Reflections. This does not mean we are "ditching" our usual approach and style by any means. From all reports, everyone seems to be pleased with Future Reflections, and results speak for themselves. But let me share some background about myself and a personal experience that will, I believe demonstrate why this issue is different and why it is as informative and worthwhile as any we have published.
As many of our readers know by now, I am not only the editor of this publication but also the mother of three children, one of whom is blind. My connection with the National Federation of the Blind however goes back before I became a parent of a blind child. I was a rehabilitation counselor in work with the blind from 1974 to 1978. It was the NFB that helped me understand about blindness and how I could best, help the clients I served. I learned how all the training in the best "blind techniques" and how all the most modern, up-to-date technology could never in themselves help blind persons succeed or feel good about themselves. I began to see how society's overwhelmingly negative attitudes about blindness as helplessness, inferiority and dependency stunted and scarred the lives and opportunities of the blind. Even worse, I saw how blind people took on those very attitudes (for we tend to see ourselves as others see us) and did much to make the myths about blindness a reality for themselves and others.
But I also saw how the progressive attitude and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind was changing all that. Blind persons were gaining confidence and belief in themselves through association with other blind people-- people who believed in the capabilities of the blind. The National Federation of the Blind's legislative and public relation efforts were paying off in better laws, more employment opportunities, better educational services and better public attitudes toward the blind. In short, I learned that "attitude" is everything .
Not only did this knowledge help me in my work as a rehabilitation counselor, but it also gave my husband and I enough insight and confidence to adopt a blind child. We had decided early in our marriage that we wanted to adopt a child. We quickly learned that adoption agencies found it difficult to place handicapped children, and that it was often especially difficult to find a home for a blind child.
This is really where my story begins. For it was only after we had Chaz that I really began to learn, emotionally as well as intellectually, how deeply ingrained the negative attitudes and ideas about blindness are within each one of us. My husband and I had to do some soul-searching as some of our real attitudes and beliefs about blindness surfaced (see the article, "Mom, Am I blind?" from the July, 1982 issue of Future Reflections.) We are not yet through that process and maybe never will be.
Just as we learned how much we had been personally affected by the pervading myths about blindness, we also learned how much others in our society were affected by it and what that meant for our son's future. Chaz was with us less than a year when an incident occured that made me break into tears. I was to realize for the first time what it would be like for my son to feel (only because of blindness) the sting of rejection and the spirit-crushing weight of prejudice and discrimination.
I was employed at that time with the regional office of the Red Cross. I enjoyed my work and was (and still am) proud of the organization I worked for. always alert for opportunities to educate others about blindness, I would talk to my boss and my co-workers about the abilities of the blind. To my joy, I discovered that my supervisor was particularly responsive. It seems he had previously worked in an office where a blind volunteer had worked his way into a paid position. The blind man's energy and competency had impressed my supervisor. He told me he would certainly consider a blind applicant when a job opening came up. And, eventually, one did. In the meantime however, a new supervisory position had been created and this job opening fell under it. My boss would only have an advisory role in who would be hired for that position. He (my boss) did suggest that we sit down and talk with the new supervisor about it and encourage her to have the job listed with the Job Opportunities for the Blind program. (JOB is a program to help blind people find jobs. It is a joint effort of the NFB and the U.S. Department of Labor.)
The talk was brief and discouraging. The new supervisor was as close minded as my other supervisor had been open-minded. She asked me some questions about how a blind person would do some of the tasks involved. I explained how blind persons use various alternative techniques. Those techniques would vary some according to the job and the amount of vision the particular individual had. For reading tasks, for example, some persons would use tapes, Braille and/ or readers. Others would use visual aids and yet others could read some materials; unaided. At that point she said something like this, "Well, we sometimes need to drive a volunteer home, could they drive a car?" I knew then that our conversation was hopeless. She had already made up her mind. I told her that if a blind person could efficiently do everything in exactly the same way sighted people did them, then they were simply not blind. I did not know any blind persons who drove cars--at least any who did so legally, safely or without severe restrictions. She ended the conversation by saying that she really didn't think a blind person could do this job--but maybe there was something they could do in some other area--but not in her department, of course.
Since there was not a specific blind person seeking this job (and I don't know that there would have been even if the woman had been open-minded) I did not push the matter. I did not even tell her that I knew volunteers were given cab or bus fare for transportation and therefore driving was not a requirement of this job. Instead, I excused myself, went to the ladies room, locked myself in, sat down and cried.
I did not cry for my failure to educate this woman or for some unknown person who might have wanted that job--I cried for my son. My wonderful, bright, happy, two-year-old blind son. I knew it would be many years before he would be looking for a job, but all the same it was for my son that I wept. I cried for all the cruel put-downs and closed minds that he would encounter as he grew to manhood. I cried for the anger, frustration and bitterness that would be his legacy. A legacy born out of the age-old myths of blindness as inferiority, stupidity and helplessness.
Yet even as I cried, I knew it did not have to be that way. I was already an active member of the National Federation of the Blind and I knew the strides we had made and were continuing to make in educating the public about the capabilities of blind people. However this incident gave new meaning and new urgency to the work, goals and purposes of the National Federation of the Blind. The employment discrimination cases we fought, the educational literature we distributed, the seminars we held, the times we fought the courts and the welfare agencies who sought, solely on the basis of blindness, to take children from their blind parents, the efforts to reform blind workshops that are as bad as the "sweatshops" of the early 1900's ever were--all this was to help my son and thousands of blind children like him to have a chance at a normal life with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that the rest of us take for granted.
That is why this publication is much more than a "how-to" magazine about the alternative techniques used by the blind and special hints to help you teach your blind child the things she needs to know- Those are important of course. Especially :,so , for parents of blind children, for we will be the ones teaching our children Jihese techniques, monitoring what the educators are teaching them and encouraging or discouraging the use of various methods.
But our blind child will not gain confidence and competency, social acceptance and opportunity from techniques alone. As Dr. Kenneth Jernigan states in his opening comments from "Blindness--Handicap or Characteristic," "It has been wisely observed that philosophy bakes no bread. It has, with equal wisdom, been observed that without a philosophy no bread is baked."
We have always tried in Future Reflections to present a bit of both--the bread and the philosophy. This issue is a little different in that we are giving special emphasis to the philosophy. The attached articles (including Dr. Jernigan's, "Blindness--Handicap or Characteristic") are reprints of educational material the National Federation of the Blind distributes to members of the public. They were written to help us understand how the real problems of blindness come not from the physical fact of blindness, but from social attitudes about blindness. We hope you will read them carefully, and save them for future reference. They demonstrate and explain the philosophy and attitude that undergirds everything that Future Reflections has ever printed or ever will print.