Changing Perceptions About Blindness by the Hundreds
by E. Randy Cox

From the Editor: Randy Cox is an active Federationist who lives in Utah. He is sighted, but he holds strong and healthy views about blindness and blind people. This is what he says:

My first contact with a blind person came when I was in high school. My father was assigned by our local church to check routinely on a member of our congregation who was in his seventies and didn't make it out to meetings very often. I accompanied my father on these visits for several months but never met the second man who supposedly lived there.

I asked my father why we had not met the other man and was told that he was blind and stayed in his bedroom in the back of the house. I later learned that the two men had been business partners, but when one became blind, they sold their hotels and restaurants and moved to central Florida, where the once wealthy, active entrepreneur became a reclusive, incapable shut-in.

My opportunity to meet this other man came when the man we checked on became very ill and had to be hospitalized for a time. My father and I volunteered to take care of the blind man during this period. I was shocked, however, when I received the list of instructions on what it would mean to "take care of him."

He never got out of his pajamas. Most days he refused to get out of bed. He had to be spoonfed like a young child, and often this proved to be as messy as feeding my younger brothers and sisters. He rarely spoke, and if he did, it was in an inaudible mutter I had difficulty understanding. If he wanted to go anywhere in the house, I had to position myself in front of him so he could place both hands on my shoulders. Then I would slowly shuffle forward, matching his halting, terrified steps.

Then there was helping him use the rest room. I pause to mention again that the only thing that had changed about this once dynamic, active businessman was that he had lost his eyesight. In all respects, for a man his age, he was perfectly capable, both physically and mentally.

Our perceptions come from what we think about what we have experienced. I came away from this encounter with the idea that blindness meant helplessness, dependence, atrophy, lethargy, and hopelessness. Consequently I concluded that blind people should be pitied.

My next contact with a blind person came on October 16, 1992. I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with a woman named Kristen Eyring in a personal development seminar. She first got my attention when she walked into the room; I was immediately struck by her stunning beauty. Soon after the seminar got started, I learned she was also very intelligent, articulate, and well traveled.

As the seminar progressed, I pulled out of Kristen some of her accomplishments. I learned that she had been a member of a championship soccer team, had spent a semester studying abroad in Spain, had been chosen as one of 100 students from across the country to serve as Senatorial Scholars to Japan, had graduated from high school in three years, had done volunteer work for her church in Brazil, had traveled throughout Europe, and had been a 4.0 student in college. Incidentally, she was blind.

Throughout the seminar Kristen had no trouble crossing downtown streets, ordering in restaurants, getting to and from the meetings, and carrying out any number of tasks that my past experience said should have been impossible for her.

I was thinking about Kristen recently and how her example changed my perception of blindness forever. Had I never met her, I would probably still hold the beliefs I developed from my high school experience.

The power of one person's example, for good or ill, can be enormous. I wonder how many people there are, like me, who have changed their perceptions about blindness due to Kristen's example. I began adding them up.

There are her parents; sister; half-brother; nine step-brothers and sisters; grandparents; cousins; aunts; uncles; doctors; teammates; parents of teammates; teachers; classmates; members of her church congregation; those with whom she interacted in Brazil, Japan, Italy, and France; members of the seminar we attended; those who have seen and heard her on the television and radio programs she has appeared on; and the list goes on.

Before long, I realized Kristen has probably been an example to hundreds of people that blindness is not synonymous with helplessness, that the loss of sight doesn't mean you have to lose sight of your goals, that blindness is no reason to slow down. The impact Kristen has had is repeated across the country every day by other Federationists. In moments of discouragement, it is well for us to remember that individual perceptions about blindness are being transformed every time a competent blind person crosses a street or chairs a meeting or insists on doing his or her fair share of any task in the community.

You may have wondered why I remember that I met Kristen on October 16. That date is very important to me because a short time after that, Kristen Eyring became Kristen Cox, my wife.