Wednesday, June 6, has been declared a day of solidarity with the blind and
visually impaired community. On that day, you will be able to participate in
numerous events supposedly aimed at raising your awareness of the nature of
blindness, of how blind people live their daily lives and of what problems they
face. Before we hasten to applaud this initiative, let us look more closely at
some of the events advertised for “Blind Day.”
At the Knesset, some
Knesset members will be called upon to blindfold themselves and compete against
a team of blind athletes in a game of “goal-ball,” a sport specially designed
for the blind. At other venues, people will be invited to perform everyday
tasks, such as eating at a restaurant and shopping for groceries, with their
eyes closed or in a totally dark environment.
There will also be some
purely spectator events, such as an exhibition ride on tandem bicycles by pairs
of sighted and blind cyclists.
Unfortunately, all the
blindness-simulation exercises on the “Blind Day” schedule are gimmicks which
assume that the principal problem facing blind people is the actual loss of
To be sure, the absence of sight is a problem. I and all my fellow
blind have spent years learning and mastering, with greater or lesser success, a
host of non-visual techniques which enable us to lead normal lives without
sight. These techniques include walking with a cane or dog-guide, listening to
the flow of traffic before crossing the street, reading books in Braille, large
print or recorded form, and reading our computer screens with the use of speech
software, Braille displays or screen magnification.
BY CONTRAST, the
Knesset members who will blindfold themselves and attempt to play goal-ball will
never function as practiced blind people do. As soon as they don their
blindfolds, they will be virtually paralyzed by fear for their physical safety
and exasperated by their inability to perform the simplest of tasks as they did
with their eyes open.
They will be totally disoriented on the goal-ball
court while their blind opponents run rings around them, and their
self-confidence will be at zero. As a result, rather than raising the Knesset
members’ awareness of the true nature of blindness, this experience will
reinforce whatever stereotypes and prejudicial notions they may have had about
the helplessness and incapacity of blind people.
However, beyond that,
the real problem facing blind people is not so much the physical loss of sight
but the low expectations the sighted society has of us and the discrimination we
constantly encounter. Even though many of the tasks showcased on “Blind Day,”
such as basic cooking and pedaling at the back of a tandem, are so simple and
mundane, sighted people typically marvel at how the blind can actually perform
them without sight.
Consequently, they are left with the impression that
real achievements, such as winning the World Bible Quiz or climbing to the
summit of Mount Everest, (both in fact accomplished by blind people), are
necessarily beyond the reach of the blind. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we
are treated as objects worthy of compassion and pity rather than as potentially
productive and contributing citizens, and are segregated and marginalized out of
the economic and social mainstream of the community?
“Blind Day” should have
been used to publicize, for example, the fact that parents of blind children
have asked the Supreme Court to compel the Ministry of Education to provide
their sons and daughters with Braille and recorded textbooks in a timely manner,
to enable them to compete on an equal footing with their sighted
“Blind Day” should have been used to highlight the fact that
the IDF automatically exempts blind 18-yearolds from mandatory military service,
even though they may be judged “Kshirim,” and, if they insist on serving, only
permits them to enlist as volunteers.
“Blind Day” should have been used
to protest against Egged’s failure to install voice announcements of bus numbers
and routes on all buses and at all bus stops, for the benefit of blind
The organizers of “Blind Day” would have convinced Knesset
members and the employer community of the abilities of the blind much more
effectively if they had arranged live demonstrations of blind people at work,
competently performing a wide variety of jobs, including jobs with high-level
professional and managerial responsibility. Only such demonstrations will bring
about a genuine change of attitude toward the blind and speed their integration
into the labor market and into the wider society.
The writer was born
blind and grew up in Israel. After completing studies at Oxford he worked for 17
years as a career political officer with the US State Department, retiring in