Future Reflections Winter 1993, Vol. 12 No. 1


by Zach Shore

        Reprinted from the March, 1990, Braille Monitor.

From the Braille Monitor Editor: Blind people must eternally grapple with the question of the free lunch. If, as is obvious to Federationists, it does not exist, what is the price? For the thoughtful blind person, those two-for-one fares, half-price admissions, and cut-rate transit cards for the blind are all charitable programs that give rise to reflection and self-examination. In the October, 1989, issue of the Blind Activist a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, Zach Shore wrote insightfully about his evolving understanding of the matters at stake. Here is what he had to say:

     I am a blind citizen, and although I once utilized half-fares for public transportation, I would never accept any blind discounts today. In most major cities, blind citizens are permitted to pay half price or discount rates on all forms of public transportation. I am opposed to such demeaning and unnecessary treatment.

     For many years I carried my public transit half-fare card with me whenever I traveled in Philadelphia and presented it faithfully with my money, generally saving about sixty cents a trip. I believed that, since I could not drive, it was only reasonable that I should not be penalized for this handicap. Since sighted people had the option of driving and I didn't, I reasoned that I was entitled to compensation. "Besides," I used to tell myself, "times are tough. I'm not exactly Donald Trump, and I can't afford not to take advantage of every chance to save money." Only much later did I consider that many sighted people cannot drive for numerous reasons, and they take public transportation as frequently as I do. I began to reassess my basic assumptions about what I could and could not afford. Sigmund Freud noted that there are two desires common to most humans: the desire to be loved and accepted by others, and the yearning to make one's own way in life financially. Certainly this is as true of the blind as it is of any other group. I recognize that this charitable offer of blind discounts is made with only the sincerest and most well-meaning intentions possible, but nevertheless, their effect is extremely detrimental to the blind. Rather than giving us a helping hand, they prevent us from fulfilling the basic human desire for financial independence by encouraging blind people to remain dependent on public handouts.

     Half or discount fares serve to reinforce the prevailing social myths that the blind are the objects of charity and pity, who exist as social parasites depleting the tax dollars of hard-working citizens. Every time blind people use a half-fare or blind discount, they perpetuate the image of the blind as beggars. The bus driver who is presented with a half-fare card will invariably associate blindness with inequality and inability. How can he think anything else? It is simply not worth the cost.

     The price we pay in public attitudes far outweighs whatever we might save in the immediate cost of transportation. There is a direct link between blind discounts and our economic and social status. It is no accident that 70% of our nation's working-age blind are unemployed. The majority of the nation's employers view the blind as helpless, dependent charity-seekers, rather than competent, motivated members of the work force and potential employees.

     Part of being American citizens is sharing in both rights and responsibilities. We can never hope to gain equal status in society if we are not willing to take on our financial obligations, and that means paying our fair share along with everybody else. As long as we shirk our responsibilities, the blind will remain second-class citizens with all the misery which that entails. There are still no free lunches or free rides--not even for the blind. We pay a price for everything we do in life. For the blind as a minority, the price for half-fares is simply too high.