Future Reflections January/February 1983, Vol. 2 No. 1

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From the Editor's Mailbox

On Discrimination & Insurance

Discrimination against blind people?! The very idea seems ludicrous. We understand how people may feel pity, sympathy, charity, or even fear toward the blind... but who would want to harm someone who is blind?

The dictionary defines "discriminate" in this manner, "To make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit." Discrimination is defined as, "The act, practice, or an instance of discriminating catagorically rather than individually." Nowhere in these definitions is there any mention of "ill-will" or "intent to harm." It is clear then that one may, indeed, have no hatred or even ill-will towards an individual or a group, but still be involved in "discriminating" against them.

For instance, the landlord who refuses to rent his apartment to a blind woman because the apartment has some steps, may justify his actions on the basis that he is really protecting the woman from harm. His assumption is that blind people are less capable and more likely to injure themselves than others who have normal vision. Though his intentions are good, his assumption is false (blind people are no more accident-prone, or less safe when navigating stairs than are others). Therefore, he is just as guilty of unjust discrimination as if he had refused to rent his apartment to someone who was black, or Irish, or Catholic because he did not "like" these "kind of people."

Discrimination against the blind (that means our blind child) occurs in many areas of daily life. Housing, jobs, education, buying a car, the use of public facilities and insurance are a few of the most prominent.

But because of the NFB, that is changing. One such area of change is that of the insurance business. In 1978-79, the NFB was able to convince the National Association of Insurance Carriers (NAIC) that large scale discrimination existed, and to promulgate model regulations and laws forbidding discrimination against the blind and handicapped. State affiliates of NFB then went into action, and now over 30 states have such laws and regulations.

Our national office received a letter last spring from a parent who had encountered such discrimination when trying to buy health insurance for her blind son. This is not an uncommon situation, and one blind people have had to endure for many years. Fortunately, that parent lives in a state where laws prohibiting insurance discrimination exist. But it takes more than laws on the books to overcome such discrimination.

Here is the letter, and the response from the NFB state president to which her letter was referred.

March 23, 1982

Federation of the Blind

To whomever wants to listen

I am a very upset parent of a blind son. Because my child is blind, and for no other reason, my son has been refused life insurance. And now health insurance! He is not sick or has a deadly disease -- he simply can't see.

To me this is discrimination. Some people are black, some are white -- my son is blind. Don't blind people have the right to have insurance? Have you heard of this before? I will appreciate any questions you can answer for me, and please explain to me WHY blind people can't be insured to have tonsils removed, for example, like anybody else.

Health insurance was denied by_____ I'd appreciate hearing from you on this. Thank you for listening.

May 17, 1982

Dear ______:

I am sending you the information concerning the National Federation of the Blind, which we discussed in our telephone conversation of April 29. Also, I thought you might wish to know the exact legal citation for the law prohibiting discrimination against disabled or blind persons in insurance. According to Minnesota Statute, Chapter 72 A, an insurance company may not discriminate against disabled persons in life, health or accident insurance, unless there is actuarial data to show that blindness constitutes a risk. Complaints under this statute should be sent to: Insurance Department, State of Minnesota, 500 Metro Square Building, Seventh and Robert, St. Paul, MN 55101.

It was a pleasure to meet you, and I want to reinforce what I said over the phone about wishing to be of assistance to you. We certainly believe that it is discriminatory for any insurance agent to refuse to insure your son because of blindness. It's possible the salesman was not aware of Minnesota Statute Chapter 72 A. The discrimination should be pointed out to him so that the same problem will not occur over and over again, with blind or otherwise disabled persons denied insurance coverage due to this lack of information. Those of us who are aware must challenge such wrong-doing to clear the way for more fair and equal treatment of blind people.

I assure you that I understand your reluctance to pursue the matter of challenging this discrimination. Friends, family members, and others in society don't always make us feel comfortable as we question established attitudes and practices. They have a way of making us feel guilty and embarrassed; we must not allow this type of intimidation. Instead, we must strive to persuade all of our friends, relatives, and society in general, that blindness does not mean inferiority or helplessness. The attitudes which people have toward blindness are the real barriers to our progress, not the lack of sight.

You are not alone in your struggle to provide your son with an education and all the other benefits shared by the sighted. There are more than fifty thousand of us in the National Federation of the Blind who stand ready to work with you. I urge you to join with us, and together we can bring about better lives for everyone.

Yours very truly,

Joyce Scanlan, President
National Federation of the
Blind of Minnesota

If you have any questions about insurance discrimination, or wish to have more literature about it, we suggest you contact your local NFB affiliate, or write to:

National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230