The Magic of a Month and Should We be Celebrating
by Gary Wunder
For the last few weeks, we have been writing about Blind Equality Achievement Month, focusing a bit of attention on each letter that encompasses our approach to October and the effort that we make to change people’s perceptions about what it means to be blind. We saved the toughest questions for last: Why a month? Have we achieved enough to celebrate? And why should the blind get special attention?
So, what is a month? Miriam Webster says it is “a measure of time corresponding nearly to the period of the moon's revolution and amounting to approximately four weeks or thirty days or ¹/₁₂ of a year.” So as much as I respect and rely on Merriam-Webster, that really doesn’t get us very far because it tells us what we already know. I could play a little bit with the romantic notions about the various stages of the moon, but I’m not sure that would tell us anything about why a month is the appropriate measure of how long we should celebrate the achievements of the blind or focus our energy on receiving equal treatment.
Maybe we can start by admitting that a month is an arbitrary period when we are talking about how long a celebration should be. Perhaps what we should be discussing is not why a month is the obvious choice for our program but instead figure out how to take best advantage of this measure of time.
If we want to send a message to people, we must realize that they are busy and offer it at times when they may be available to receive it. A month lets us choose from all the weekdays that end in Y, and we may take the same advantage of weekends to catch those who are otherwise occupied during the week. A month is long enough to let us schedule multiple activities and not wear people out by trying to squeeze those activities into a week.
Some people are concerned less about the unit of time but instead focused on the appropriateness of celebrating achievements by blind people. They ask why we should be celebrating when there is so much work still to do. The acknowledgment of achievement suggests that work pays off, and this is important if in fact we have more work to do, which we most assuredly do. We need some time to do cheerleading to get people excited about what blind people have done but, more importantly, about what blind people can do. For some this excitement may translate into extending opportunities to people they had previously considered incapable. For others it may mean taking a step that they previously thought foolish, unrealistic, or imprudent. Encouraging a person to dream is a positive step, but helping them to act on that dream is truly a noble leap forward.
One question that is periodically raised is why blind people should highlight our own achievements given there is already Disability Awareness Month? If we are engaging in needless duplication, it is a poor use of our resources and time. A compelling argument for me has always been that blindness is feared more than any other disability, and polls have suggested that it is feared second only to cancer when it comes to health conditions. A significant reduction in eyesight is specific in the life changes it can bring about, and answering those fears must be equally specific. Generic terms are fine when crafting legislation to broadly address human rights or trying to define large groups of people. But when it comes to problem solving, people are looking for specific solutions, and being responsive must mean we are specific in discussing our life experiences and the alternative techniques we daily employ.
Is there a reason to focus energy and attention on the quest for equality and the achievements that have sprung from it during the month of October? The answer isn’t found in some book of wisdom; it is found in us. If we believe that the pursuit of equality of opportunity is worth it, we share that passion with the public. If we believe that our achievements are worth sharing with the world that too often undervalues us, we will do it. If our life experience is that “we should do that sometime” is less effective than “let’s do that next week,” then we will rally behind the idea of Blind Equality Achievement Month and focus on making who we are, what we do, and what we can bring to our communities more visibly in the thirty-one days October gifts to us. I think we should, no we can, and fervently believe we will.