Braille Monitor                                                   May 2010

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Ask Miss Whozit

A formal place setting, complete with placecard bearing the Whozit logo and the words, “Miss Whozit.”From Barbara Pierce: In recent months Miss Whozit has answered reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Barbara Pierce, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <[email protected]>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:

Dear Miss Whozit:

At the beginning of every issue of the Braille Monitor it says, “Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about $25 per year. Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost.”

As an avid reader of the Monitor online I am curious if the cost is still the same for producing the Monitor with the recent innovations of online access and revamping of the hardcopy list. Additionally, and most important, should members not read the Monitor if they are unable or unwilling to provide the suggested contribution? I feel that such a donation is a small fee to pay for all I get out of the Monitor but am aware that others may feel differently. Thank you for your assistance.

Concerned about Costs

Dear Concerned:

Miss Whozit commends you for your sense of responsibility in preferring to pay for the goods and services you receive. She only wishes that more blind people shared your conscientiousness in such matters. Our community has a distressing tendency to accept and expect cut rate tickets, free passes, and other such so-called benefits. We all recognize that many blind people depend on SSI and SSDI to live independently and that as a result they have very little disposable income. Yet the notion that somehow disability confers the right to have society make life easier for one, particularly in such superficial and ultimately insignificant ways, is pretty common among blind people and those with other disabilities. Many in the NFB resist this form of charity, which is one of the reasons that Federationists are so often successful, engaged members of their communities. They understand the Robert Heinlein concept of TANSTAAFL—there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. What one gains in financial savings, one loses from pity, condescension, and presumption of incompetence.

Whew, Miss Whozit regrets that she seems to have forgotten herself. She will now step gracefully down from her soapbox and attempt to give you the answer you sought. Of course the purged mailing list of hardcopy magazine recipients will save money, though it is true that printers give better per-item prices the larger the print run. Still, if we generate fewer print, Braille, and cassette copies of an issue, our cost will necessarily be lower. That does not mean, however, that the NFB is now earning money with the Monitor or even breaking even.

Those who receive the magazine by email or read it online are making a contribution to the overall budget of the organization by saving us from producing hard copy for them to read. That said, the personnel costs of researching and writing the publication, laying it out, and maintaining the Website on which it is available do not shrink with a shrinking mailing list. These are fixed costs, and they exist no matter how many people access the information electronically.

No one who enjoys reading the Monitor, however, should refrain from doing so, either electronically or in one of the hardcopy editions just because it is difficult to pay for the privilege. After all, it is out there on our Website, where we hope people will read and learn from it.

Dear Miss Whozit,

My husband and I are both blind. Our son is about to turn sixteen, so you can probably guess that my question has to do with drivers’ licenses. Of course he is agitating for us to buy a car after he passes his test so that he has wheels. I know that some blind couples own cars and pay drivers to use their vehicles to get them where they need to go, but we have always managed with buses, taxis, and volunteer or paid drivers who use their own cars.

I am uneasy about taking this new step. Our son assures us that he will be happy to do errands for us and drive us where we want to go if he can just have access to the car the rest of the time. I worry that, if he is responsible in living up to his end of the deal, we may become lazy and overly dependent on him. My husband thinks I am borrowing trouble. He is focusing on the convenience of having a car and driver available when we need it. What do you think?

Worried Mom

Dear Worried,

You are asking a good bit of Miss Whozit considering that you have said nothing about your son’s maturity and reliability. But since Miss Whozit has known a number of young people with shiny new drivers’ licenses, she is more inclined to worry with you than to be as trusting as your husband.

We have all observed families in which blind parents who have always been independent and self-sufficient suddenly begin relying on a teenager to do all the errands and cart them around wherever they need to go. In these situations it is often hard to tell which is more disturbing, the teens who hold their parents for ransom by not finding it convenient to give them rides, or the ones who more or less assume the role of parent, chauffeuring their folks and generally organizing family life.

Of course it is quite possible to establish ground rules so that the parents, who after all have paid for the car, the insurance, and the gas, keep control of the car keys and the schedule for when the vehicle is to be used. These parents continue to make other transportation arrangements when necessary, and they do not allow their sons or daughters to establish authority and control. They are reasonable about letting their teens use the car sometimes, and they do not expect that their own plans will always supersede those of the teen. After all, young people are becoming adults, and they should gradually learn to assume adult responsibility. Call her old-fashioned, but Miss Whozit does not see that most teens need complete access to a car. Those with blind parents may have a strong argument for having a car as the only driver in the family. But the parents and the teen should civilly work out an agreement about its use, and parents should not hesitate to ground any teen who shows signs of taking advantage of the situation. Good luck.

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