Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top 10 Misconceptions about Blind People

David W. Wannop is a music journalist, talent developer, booking agent, and show host based in Center City Philadelphia.

Misconceptions of blind people are vast, contradictory, and are derived mostly from a mix of unfamiliarity with blind people and the belief that to experience blindness all one needs to do is close your eyes. Here is a list of those misconceptions and how they manifest.

1. Blind people have superior hearing. Not true. We will learn to concentrate, discern and derive a lot of meaning from sound, and make use of it in innovative ways. We are not distracted by sight, but, this is listening qua paying attention. On a straight up listening test, blind people hear at a normal level. I work in the concert biz so my hearing is probably at the low end of normal now.

2. Blind people need to be spoken to very loudly or they won’t know you are addressing them. Actually, I ignore loud speaking people for I find them rude and vulgar. More likely I am ignoring the loud mouth. Introduce yourself properly and speak with a normal tone. How is it that sighted people think I can hear a pin drop in the next town but can’t hear someone right in my face?

3. Most blind people are totally blind. Actually, the definition of legal blindness covers a range of conditions. Some have tunnel vision, others peripheral. Some can read large print. Others have focusing difficulties. Most blind people are not completely without sight. I have light perception. I often look away from bright light. I can make out no color, shape, or detail, nor depth. I can tell when the sun is shining or a light bulb has blown.

4. All blind people read Braille. Today illiteracy is a problem in the blindness community. Two factors contribute; one is the fact that many children who can see large print become increasingly blind with age, yet they are often resistant to learning Braille and a competent tutor may not be readily available. Secondly, audio books, talking books, and other methods, encourage the blind to listen instead of read. The problem here is how the brain processes the information and the level of reinforcement one gets relating to spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. Many blind people are highly functional illiterates. Then again, many blind people are scholars too.

5. Most blind people go to private special schools. Mainstreaming has been the rule since the seventies. Blind people are also involved in college campus life. Scholarships are available to qualified blind candidates. Schools for the blind are still in existence too.

6. When speaking to a blind person figurative speech must not be used. Untrue; I use terms such as I see your point, or let’s see if we can figure this out. Figurative usage of words such as see, view, and look, have little to do with actual vision.

7. Most blind people are magical or crazy. The blind employ simple, subtle, and clever techniques for getting jobs accomplished. They may be a sense of organization, applying tools to a task, or rendering their other senses to bypass a visual element. I use smell, timing, and sound, plus passed experience, along with texture when I cook for example. So, my food comes out the way I like it even though I cannot see it. There is a perception that blind people accomplish things through a sort of amazing magic. The mundane is more like it. The other extreme is the opinion that if one closes their eyes, and cannot cook, therefore, no blind person can cook. The fact is that sighted people do not know the techniques for cooking without seeing, nor any other blindness strategy. Blindness is the sum of knowledge and practice. I’ll put my experience of being blind for decades against anyone who simply closes their eyes and tries a general task.

8. All blind people love music and play it and appreciate it well. I work in talent development, booking, and other related musical fields. I don’t actually play. I have rejected blind clients for the same quality reasons that I reject sighted clients. Further more, I have met blind music fans that were into metal, country, opera, and not into music at all. Like all other aspects, blindness is a characteristic and not a complete definer. So, figure that a blind person is most likely statistically similar to other people.

9. Counting steps is an effective tool for safe traveling. Well, if I am carrying a heavy backpack, or if I am walking with a bruised ankle, or if I stop to talk to a friend, then where am I if I am counting steps? I walk a mile or so to the Italian Market. How many steps is that? What about detours? Counting steps is ridiculous. That’s like finding your friends house by estimating how many times your wheels turned on the drive over there. Landmarks are the way. I count streets, I remember various attributes such as trees, driveways, curbside benches, and alike, but counting steps doesn’t work after ten paces or so. Anyone who has ever tried to find buried treasure knows that.

10. Guide dogs know a million locations and can take thousands of commands. For the most part, a guide dog only knows four to six commands that the average dog doesn’t know. Forward, left, right, stop, are among them. You don’t tell the dog take me to the theatre and he simply takes you there. The blind person needs to navigate. Leave things up to the dog and you’ll never discover the world passed the nearest fire hydrant. By the way, cane travelers are far more likely to be employed, plus it is easier to take care of them, and more sanitary. I don’t allow guide dogs into my apartment. Fraulein Feline wouldn’t like that.

Extra and very important.
Most blind people are looking for a cure. For working age blind people, the vast majority do not disparage their blindness. It is a part of their identity just as being Black, Canadian, or a military officer can be a major part of identity. They would like to be treated better, and most of them would like to put a dent into the %75 unemployment/under-employment statistic, which plagues our ranks. Many personnel directors and human resources staffers will not recommend a blind job candidate even if the references, education, and experience are stellar. Issues that fall between government, social work, consumer advocacy, education, and business are often dealt with by the National Federation of the Blind. Skills training, employment and job readiness, and other factors are a chief concern of this organization. WWW.NFB.ORG Tel. 1410.659-9314 for more information about anything brought up on this list. The local phone for National Federation of the Blind PA Affiliate plus Chapters in the Del. Val. is 215.988-0888.

During the 1990's, Through the National Federation of the Blind, I participated in several seminars involving members of Congress and their assistants. The Washington Seminar had us speaking about blindness and Social Security and how we could use Soc. Sec. to ease the transition into work. We concentrated on creating incentives to business and blind people to get more involved with viable employment without the immediate loss of all SSDI benefits..

Additionally, we worked to create a more efficient method for producing Braille books using the electronic publisher master to drive Braille printers. Congress helped to create guidelines for publishers to submit such electronic master files to the Library of Congress in order to make such adaptive versions of books. This production is faster and less expensive than the hand copying method of the past.

We worked to allow more parents of blind children to address the medium in which their blind children were being instructed. All though many kids can read large print, they can only do so slowly, or at the risk of severe eye strain. Many who test for large print will lose more vision and thus they need Braille instruction en lieu of print. Braille for them is faster and allows them to keep up with other students.

Sometimes, we would be in large meetings. At others, small teams would go from office to office engaging staffers and speaking with the occasional member of congress. In 2008, legislation was introduced to create a Louis Braille coin. They needed 2/3 of congress to pass the resolution to have the coin ready by 2009. Pennsylvania was the largest state to have all 19 house members and both senators co/sponsor the bill. It was a rare moment of cooperation across party and ideological lines. Everyone thought Braille and an improved public opinion of blind American citizens was that important.

This list was written exclusively by David W. Wannop a music journalist, talent developer, booking agent, and show host based in Center City Philadelphia. I am hoping that David at some point in the future will share and grace with me his vast experience in the musical world. He has many fascinating stories to tell. To me he exemplifies wit and wisdom and it has been my pleasure to hear his insight when he speaks. He sees the world a lot clearer then I do.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. i was diagnosed with Stargardt's Disease which has caused me to be legally blind. I have a blog and wanted to use excerpts of this article. I found this article through a google search and it seems other sites have taken bits and pieces and didn't properly credit the source. I don't want to do that. So I'm asking for permission to use this article. i want to give you and David proper credit. Looking forward to hearing from you.