Braille Monitor                                                                                                           October 2004

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Coming to Terms: A Review

by Peggy Chong

Curtis and Peggy Chong
Curtis and Peggy Chong

From the Editor: One of the most common reasons for the popularity of many children's books is that readers enjoy identifying with the protagonist. It's always exciting when word gets around that a book aiming at a positive portrayal of blindness has been released. Blind youngsters have very few fictional characters with whom to identify. Peggy Chong, president of the Des Moines Chapter of the NFB of Iowa, has written a review of a new book that unfortunately does not live up to its promise. This is what she says:

Coming to Terms, by Rose Bevins, describes the visit of a blind youth to the home of a friend of his parents. The book undertakes a positive portrayal of a blind person, but it also hauls out old stereotypes and perpetuates old myths.

After reading this book, I suspect that the author set out to break down myths and stereotypes of the disabled--in this case, blind people. The dust jacket material indicates that the author has written other books about young disabled people in an effort to educate the nondisabled about the abilities of disabled people. But as the saying goes, Garbage in, garbage out. She thanks Bill Kimber from the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind for his review. As Federationists will remember, until very recently the Alabama Institute has not been known for its quality education or outstanding preparation of blind students for the adult world.

The basic plot of the book is solid. After a reluctant start to the relationship between the two main characters, they build a friendship, face adversity, save an older woman during a rain storm, and become fast friends. But that is where the fun ended for me.

Ricky, the blind thirteen-year-old boy who comes to visit, is a stylish dresser, we are told, with one gold earring. Gina, going into seventh grade, is also a hip teen. When Ricky comes to visit with his family, Gina, like most teens, is not pleased that an outsider is ruining her plans for the weekend--and he is blind to boot.

We are told that Ricky uses a folding cane, but when outside, he travels on the arm of a guide and does not use his cane at all. He wears dark glasses. At one point he tells Gina that "Most blind people do." He goes on to say that "Sometimes our eyes are a little discolored. Or they move a lot, even though we don't mean for them to. So we wear dark glasses to hide them. It's kind of like covering a sore with a Band-Aid, I guess. It just looks nicer." Most blind people I know do not wear dark glasses.

Ricky and Gina find things in common such as playing the piano. This is not a bad thing, but again it feeds on the stereotypes many people still harbor about musical blind people.

Then there is the babysitter. Gina has outgrown the need for a babysitter. But the adults conclude that, with blind Ricky in the picture, they should get one, just in case something happens. Many blind kids Ricky's age are babysitting, not having a babysitter. I found this plot twist condescending and unconstructive.

Then a rain storm cuts off the electricity. After Ricky takes Gina's arm when the two go outside, the rain makes it hard to see, so Gina reverses roles and takes Ricky's arm instead. They rescue the babysitter, and all is well. But why was Ricky using sighted-guide technique in the first place?

At the back of the book is a list entitled "And here are some blind people who are or were blind." Again the stereotypes prevail. Four of the nine listed are musicians: Stevie Wonder, Jos´┐Ż Feliciano, Ray Charles, and Ronnie Milsap. The others are Marla Runyon, Eric Weihenmayer, John Milton, Helen Keller, and Louis Braille. Note, none are graduates of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. Where are names such as Jacobus tenBroek, a great professor, legal scholar, and leader of the blind; or Dr. Geerat Vermeij, a nationally recognized marine biologist; Lynda Boose, a blind park ranger; Tony Burda, a licensed pharmacist; Stanley Wainapel, M.D., a practicing medical doctor in New York; author Deborah Kent Stein; Abraham Nemeth, Ph.D., the designer of the Braille math code as well as an excellent teacher; Gilbert Ramirez, a trial court judge in New York City; and many more whom I have not mentioned. We in the Federation know of blind people who are lawyers, chefs, teachers, electricians, office staff, artists, and anything else we can imagine. Why was her list so short and weighted toward the stereotyped and the obvious?

This book might have fulfilled its promise, if only the author had consulted the National Federation of the Blind.

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