[nfbwatlk] why we need to be there

Mary Ellen gabias at telus.net
Sat Apr 4 22:17:11 UTC 2009


It's election time in British Columbia; the barbecues and the rhetoric are
sizzling. There's not much of a contest in our legislative district. Kelowna
is a one party town. Candidates from the other parties keep the majority
party in check by raising issues, but the person who wins the BC Liberal
Party nomination is pretty well assured the seat in the legislature.

I'm pleased with the nominee. He has a record of conscientious service on
the Kelowna City Council and a commitment to issues that matter to me. So I
was happy to add his campaign kick off barbecue to my list of Saturday

I arrived during the preliminary speeches and joined the enthusiastic crowd.
After the program ended, a  friend who is a member of the campaign team
showed me to the volunteer table and introduced me to the woman taking names
there. "Can you fill out the form, or would you like me to help with it,"
she asked politely. I spelled my name, gave my address and phone number, and
told her which boxes to check in the list of potential volunteer duties.
When we'd finished, she proudly told me, "I've marked on your form "visually
impaired, but presents well."

I doubt the woman noticed that my return smile was somewhat rueful. It was
that word "but." My performance as an aspiring volunteer had just been
graded as "exceeds expectations." But what expectations? That little word
"but" implied that she didn't expect the "visually impaired" to "present

Yet it was clear to me that she had intended a compliment. I chose to take
it in that spirit. Her mother had become blind during the last twenty years
of life. "I'm blind," I replied. "I don't really believe in euphemisms."
That put her more at ease.

Having been assured that the volunteer coordinator would call me to schedule
a time for me to begin, I walked off toward the food tables. Another
campaign volunteer offered to help me through the line.

Our local Federal member of parliament walked up to us and greeted me by
name. (I'd volunteered for his campaign three years ago.) "How's Paul? How
are the children? Oh, by the way, I'm now on the parliamentary committee
which deals with disability issues and poverty. Here's my new business
card." He grinned while I read the Braille card, obviously pleased with

"Impressive! When you have the time," I responded, " I'd like to talk to you
about the work your committee is doing. I'll send you a paper written by the
Canadian Federation of the Blind concerning employment and rehabilitation." 

"I'd appreciate that," he said, and moved on to talk to the next supporter.

I think my new campaign volunteer friend was somewhat surprised. "Let me
introduce you to Norm, the provincial candidate. "Norm," she said, "this is
Mary Ellen."

"Oh, yes, Mary Ellen, how are you? I've met you several times at the French

"This isn't the time," I told him, "but I'd like to set aside five or ten
minutes to talk with you about issues that are important to me."

"Sure," he answered. "I'll be meeting with people throughout the campaign,
and after the campaign is over. Just call and set up an appointment."

"I'll be volunteering," I replied, " so I'll do it then. Unless apathy sets
in, I'm sure you're heading for Victoria. Good luck."

My volunteer friend chatted as we approached the tables laden with burgers
and smokies. "I used to work at a home for the aged. We learned so much
about people with disabilities. I remember one day they blindfolded us and
we walked with someone the way I'm walking with you now. I remember how
vulnerable I felt."

"I'm glad you're so interested in learning," I told her. "The way you felt
is probably how someone who is newly blind or has had no training feels, but
it's a bit inaccurate. I don't feel the least bit vulnerable."

Thinking back on the hour I spent at the rally and barbecue, I'm struck by
contrasts. On one hand, we're "visually impaired but present well." At the
same time, elected officials want our opinions on matters which affect us.
Ignorance and opportunity are all around us. Responding to the ignorance can
be a teeth gritting exercise in diplomacy. Seizing the opportunity must be
our continual mission. When it comes to politics, as in so many other
circumstances, we really need to keep being there.

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