Why Publish the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research?

By Gary Wunder

Editor’s note: The publication of Volume 10 of the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research (JBIR) by the National Federation of the Blind marked the tenth anniversary of our publishing this journal. As we reflect on this accomplishment, it is helpful to reconsider why we publish JBIR as we chart our course for our second decade. The following article by Gary Wunder reminds us of why it is so important that a scholarly journal for professionals in the blindness field be published by an organization of blind consumers. We will also be conducting a survey of JBIR authors and readers to get your input as we make plans for the future. Finally, the JBIR editorial team would like to thank the many authors, peer reviewers, and readers who have helped us grow JBIR into a respected resource.

As some of you know, I am the editor of the Braille Monitor, what we call the flagship publication of the National Federation of the Blind. We are the voice of the consumer and try to express what blind people want, need, and experience as we go through our daily lives. Although we have been very liberal in sharing our magazine with agencies for the blind, elected officials, and anyone who might conceivably read it, we realized that there were certain areas in education and blindness that simply did not acknowledge our opinion, experience, or work. We needed a trade journal that spoke the language of the trade and that was written by people whose lives were involved with the trade and who understood the specialized vocabulary that every trade employs as it evolves. We needed to create a magazine in which the peers of professionals who work with the blind would use their specialized knowledge and combine it with the unique philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind that compelled many of them to go into this meaningful work.

Coming to the decision to publish this journal was not easy. Just as some professionals had their biases about consumers speaking to their field, some of us who live with blindness every day thought that we should be the unquestioned authorities and that a magazine representing the consumer’s point of view should be quite enough. To some extent we fell into the all too American tendency to reject the idea that there could be any special expertise required in training blind people. What we came to understand was that we did not dislike the expertise of the professionals, but what we really disliked was the disdain we perceived in some of what they said and did. We didn’t need patronizing talk by people who felt that what they did was far too complicated for the blind people they served to understand, let alone speak about, or dare to criticize. What we had to understand was that developing expertise did not mean discounting our lived experience, and if this is what happened in the professional journal as we knew it, this further strengthened the need for us to offer an alternative for the men and women who would educate and work with blind people.

We know that teaching attitudes and skills requires experts, that learning to teach the alternative techniques of blindness can be complicated, and that overcoming the resistance of the newly blind requires understanding, tact, patience, and knowing just how hard to push.

Our Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research was also created to reflect the ever-increasing number of blind people active in the field and the ideas they brought for the improvement of training and evaluation. We needed a publication that would speak to professionals about concepts such as structured discovery, assessments that would meaningfully point to whether a person would learn Braille, print, or both. We needed a journal that would publish our research and hold fast to the expectation that, with proper training and opportunity, blind people can and do find productive roles to play in the world. What we have striven to achieve over the last ten years is a journal that lets professionals speak with other professionals while integrating the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of blind people who know we have a productive role to play in our society and are determined to do what it takes to play that role. Although we know how to fight and do so when necessary, we value peace, understanding, and cooperation. Through our journal we challenge ideas, not individuals. Our journal has, for the last decade, allowed us to work from the inside, while the Braille Monitor continues to be the voice of blind people who get services from the field, critique them, and offer commendation or condemnation depending on the situation. No matter the publication, our request is the same: come, let us reason together.

The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research is copyright (c) 2021 to the National Federation of the Blind.