‘Blind Day’: A wasted opportunity, again!

Let us hope that in 2014, the organizers of Blind Day will concentrate not on gimmicks but on bringing about a genuine change in public attitudes.

By AVRAHAM RABBY
June 4, 2013 21:22
4 minute read.
Blind man with seeing eye dog

Blind man with seeing eye dog 521. (photo credit: Courtesy IGDCB)

Again this year, June 6 has been declared a day of solidarity with the blind and visually impaired community, and again, the overwhelming focus of the organizers is on gimmicks rather than on a serious examination of the negative attitudes of Israeli society toward the blind; the stereotypes, the stigma, the prejudice and the discrimination.

At many of the day’s events, you will be invited to perform simple tasks, such as pouring liquid into a glass, eating, or walking with a white cane, all with your eyes covered or in a totally dark environment. Unfortunately, all these blindness-simulation exercises wrongly imply that the principal problem facing blind people is the actual loss of sight.

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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 white cane or dog guide, listening to the flow of traffic before crossing the street, cooking by touch and sound, reading books in Braille, and reading our computer and smartphone screens with the use of speech software, Braille displays or screen magnification.

By contrast, the sighted people who will cover their eyes briefly on “Blind Day” will never function as practiced blind people do. As soon as they don their blindfolds, they will be virtually paralyzed by fear for their safety and exasperated by their inability to move about as freely and speedily as they do with their eyes open.

They will be totally disoriented and their self-confidence will be at zero. Consequently, rather than raising their awareness of the true nature of blindness, the experience will reinforce whatever myths and prejudicial notions they may have harbored about the helplessness and incapacity of blind people.

So they will continue to marvel at how blind people can actually perform the simplest of tasks, such as shaving with a razor or pedaling at the back of a tandem bicycle.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that most sighted people simply do not believe that normal achievements such as earning a decent living, let alone extraordinary feats, such as winning the World Bible Quiz or climbing to the summit of Mount Everest, are within the reach of someone without sight? (By the way, blind people have accomplished these feats.) No, the real problem facing blind people is not the loss of sight but the low expectations Israeli society has of us and its inability to look at us as whole persons who happen to have one narrowly circumscribed limitation. As a result, it discriminates against us and denies us equal opportunities, most critically in employment; it marginalizes or segregates us from the mainstream at best, and completely ignores or excludes us at worse.



On May 20, for example, the Knesset reportedly joined forces with the Electricity Company which pledged to provide employment to Olympic athletes who may have fallen on hard times.

This is a laudable initiative, but why not a word about our Para-Olympic athletes? Why not a word about Noam Gershoni, Inbal Pezaro and their teammates who brought home a fistful of medals, including one gold, from the London 2012 games, while our Olympic athletes returned emptyhanded? Don’t our Para- Olympic athletes deserve equally the peace of mind of secure employment? How might “Blind Day” be made more relevant to the real problems and aspirations of the blind community? Those few employers who do employ blind people in the competitive labor market could be invited to participate in panel discussions and media interviews where they would relate their positive experiences with blind workers and encourage other employers to follow in their footsteps.

Education Minister Shai Piron, who recently decried the near-total absence of disabled teachers in the educational system and called on school principals to hire qualified teachers with disabilities, could be invited to deliver a ground-breaking address on this subject, either in the Knesset or before a national conference of educators and school administrators.

The organizers of “Blind Day” could hold an employment fair for blind job seekers.

And they could showcase blind people who are employed in a wide variety of occupations. For example, some of these blind exhibitors could, at their computer workstations, demonstrate to the employer community and to the public at large how they create and edit documents, work with spreadsheets, use the GPS app on their smartphones to plot their routes to unfamiliar destinations, communicate via chat and instant messaging, and surf the Internet.

Let us hope that in 2014, the organizers of Blind Day will concentrate not on gimmicks but on bringing about a genuine change in public attitudes which will speed the integration of blind people into the labor market and into the wider society.


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