September 22, 2016

William Schmidt
David Brint
Chairman, Board of Directors
Gordon Gund
Director - Chairman Emeritus

Foundation Fighting Blindness
7168 Columbia Gateway Drive, Suite 100
Columbia, MD 21046

Dear Mr. Schmidt, Mr. Brint, and Mr. Gund:

I am writing to you on behalf of the members of the National Federation of the Blind and our concerns regarding the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign that the Foundation Fighting Blindness launched during the past month. This campaign plays on the fears and misconceptions about blindness in order to raise support for your foundation. While we do not oppose medical research and campaigns to raise funds to support that research, we do find the perpetuation of misconceptions about the capacity of blind people to be offensive and harmful to blind people. As a blind person, I have faced the low expectations that others have for the blind, and I have experienced the negative impact those low expectations have on our lives. The current campaign threatens to reverse progress we have made in telling the true story about blindness, and I believe this is not in anyone’s interest.

In the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has disseminated video content and encouraged others to generate video content that plays into the misconceptions that exist about blindness. The list of suggested tasks for the blindfold challenge helps to encourage people to experience blindness in a negative way, and a number of the suggestions will lead to harmful consequences to blind people and their families. One offensive and damaging example is the suggestion that individuals put on a blindfold and attempt to care for their child for one minute, combined with the video entitled “What Would You Do If You Couldn’t See Your Child?” Apparently, you are unaware that the National Federation of the Blind has built an initiative for blind parents who face discrimination based on the low expectations that are falsely placed upon them. Children have been taken from blind parents based only on the idea that a blind person cannot adequately care for children. As a blind father, who happens to be married to a blind person, with three young children, I know well the techniques that blind parents use to care for, monitor, and actively play with their children. That even one family might be harmed because a social worker or neighbor watches your video and begins to question the competency of a blind parent is unconscionable. Right here in Maryland, just months ago, we passed a state law to protect the equal rights of blind parents that your campaign is now threatening.

Blind people across this country with diverse backgrounds and varied talents are living the lives they want because they have learned to use nonvisual techniques to undertake all of the activities of daily life. We work every day to help those losing vision know that blindness does not define them or the possibilities for their future. Over the past couple of years, members of the National Federation of the Blind have even participated in events hosted by the Foundation Fighting Blindness in order to demonstrate that the quest for better medical research need not be in opposition to teaching blind people that they can live full, independent, adventurous, and meaningful lives with blindness. It is disappointing to now face the negative misconceptions and unfounded fears that your current campaign encourages. Of course, when blind people do not have access to the tools and techniques that they could use to be successful, or when they have not met other blind people who are living life to their fullest, they are missing the other half of the story. It is not that the blindness is holding them back but rather the lack of access to information about how the blind do things without vision. It is irresponsible for you to perpetuate the idea that blindness is the end of a life full of success and happiness. There is too much at stake for blind people—including the members of the Foundation Fighting Blindness who are losing their vision—to ignore the negative impact of your campaign.

I would like to invite you to come to Baltimore to discuss these concerns with me. Members of the National Federation of the Blind are currently posting their disappointment with the campaign in an attempt to counteract the negative repercussions and tell the other half of the story. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss these concerns at a leadership level with the hope that we might come to a resolution that will improve rather than diminish opportunities for blind people. You can reach me via phone at (410) 659-9314 or via email at [email protected]

I eagerly welcome the opportunity to meet with you with the hope that we might find a common interest in demonstrating that blindness is not the characteristic that holds us back.

Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind