To See, or Not to See

I have been blind since the day I was born. When people first meet me, they often wonder if I would want a “cure” for my blindness. So, would my life be improved if I could see?

Sure, seeing sounds like fun, just like the ability to fly, an invisibility cloak, X-ray vision or the ability to read minds. All are things we might idly dream about during life’s pauses before we get back to its regularly scheduled programming. For me, sight is as exciting and mystical as any of these other superpowers, but having never had it before, it is something relegated to my imagination. In the meantime, I have found that most activities that the average person does visually, I can participate quite ably using my other senses, sometimes with the help of assistive devices. And the few things in which I cannot participate, I never cared much for anyway.

Getting Out in Our Community for Meet the Blind Month

I am a proud member of the National Federation of the Blind.  I am the Outreach Chair for the Winchester Chapter of the NFB of Virginia.  I have had many opportunities to go to local events in the community to educate people and help to make them aware of blindness. Meet the Blind Month provides a great opportunity to do outreach to the Winchester community.

Our chapter has participated in various activities around our city. On October 15, 2016 we worked an informational booth where we distributed NFB brochures and discussed the resources that are available in our community.  

Progress Through Telling Our Stories: The Truth About Blindness Makes a Difference

The members of the National Federation of the Blind work on a daily basis to demonstrate that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future. Every day we work to raise expectations for blind people because we experience daily the harmful impacts of low expectations on our lives. Today we can celebrate another important milestone in combating low expectations and educating the public regarding the truth about living with blindness.

An Open Letter to Our Friends and Families About the #HowEyeSeeIt Campaign

Dear Friends and Family Members:

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been posting a lot on social media in the past week about the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign, a social media challenge that encourages sighted people to put on blindfolds, engage in a list of everyday activities, and then share what they’ve learned about how difficult or impossible that task would be for a blind person and how sad that is. You’ve likely seen me post that, while I certainly support research into the causes and treatment of retinal diseases, the National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the United States, opposes this campaign.

Don't Participate. Don't Donate. Educate. The National Federation of the Blind and #HowEyeSeeIt

Members and leaders of the National Federation of the Blind from across the nation do a fantastic job of countering low expectations, misconceptions, and stereotypes about blindness.  We believe the #HowEyeSeeIt Blindfold Challenge being promoted by the Foundation Fighting Blindness unnecessarily perpetuates negative perceptions and fears about living with blindness. If you haven't taken action yet, or want to let others know how to counteract this harmful fundraising campaign, here are three quick tips:

1. Don't participate. Putting on a blindfold for a few minutes is not the way to learn about blindness and blind people. This does not demonstrate the reality of what it is like to live successfully and independently as a blind person. Do not participate in the #HowEyeSeeIt Blindfold Challenge.

Shooting Selfie Videos

To start, it's important to know some terminology. A "selfie" is a self-portrait typically taken while holding a smartphone. Most smartphones have two cameras: a front camera and back camera. The front camera is the one located just above the screen, next to the speaker. The back camera is typically in the top left corner on the back of the phone. Selfies are most easily taken while using the front camera.

Here are some tips for shooting a great selfie video:

  • Always be sure your phone is in landscape mode when shooting video, selfie or otherwise.

  • Make sure there's not so much background noise that you can't be heard. If you have headphones with a microphone, like those that come with iPhones, you can use those to help cut down on ambient noise.

If you want to help the blind, blindfolding yourself isn’t the answer

Recently I heard about a new social media campaign where people are posting videos of themselves doing things blindfolded. This wasn’t the first time I had seen sighted people blindfold themselves in hopes of understanding blindness. I was born blind, and as I was growing up, some of my friends would borrow my cane and walk around with their eyes shut. At school there were “disability awareness days” where people would pretend to have disabilities, including blindness, and walk around or eat a meal together. Other times, people would try to imagine what blindness was like, and would say things to me like “if I were blind, I couldn’t do it”. It struck me that when people blindfolded themselves or imagined doing so, they thought they understood my world better, but they really didn’t learn much.

Challenging the Fear of Blindness

In my banquet address at this year’s national convention, I talked about fear and how “if we resolve ourselves to face our fears, respect the power within those fears, and turn that power into action, we can take control of our own destiny, diminish the negative fears of others, and raise our expectations.” I also outlined the ways that the conditioned fear of blindness is used as a tool to generate funding, sell unnecessary products, and limit the rights of blind people. A new campaign has been launched that plays to the conditioned fear of blindness, and I am calling on blind people to push back on this harmful campaign by telling the world about blindness through social media.

 

A Victory for Voters in Maryland and Perhaps Beyond

Last week the Maryland Board of Elections took a new and important step in ensuring that all blind Maryland voters can exercise our right to cast our ballots privately and independently. The board agreed, after forceful persuasion by the National Federation of the Blind and other advocates, that poll workers must inform all Maryland voters of the availability of an accessible method for reading and marking their ballots.

 

A Blind Voter's Experience

For the last two elections held in Maryland I have used the accessible electronic ballot delivery system that is now available to Maryland voters with disabilities thanks to a lawsuit that was brought by the National Federation of the Blind against the Maryland State Board of Elections. However, prior to 2014 I voted at my local polling place using the audio ballot feature on the accessible Diebold AccuVote voting machine.

My experience as a blind voter has varied widely depending on how well poll workers were trained on how to enable the audio ballot. Sometimes, the poll workers knew what they needed to do to enable the audio ballot. For the majority of elections, however, the audio ballot did not start when I inserted the voter access card into the voting machine.

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