[nfbwatlk] why we need to be there

Jedi loneblindjedi at samobile.net
Mon Apr 6 00:24:09 UTC 2009

Mary Ellen,

You're a ton stronger than I am. I don't what I would have said if 
someone told me I was classified as a visually impaired person who 
presented well. I was shocked when I read it, and I felt my facial 
expression sour. Isn't it interesting how juxtiposed people's views of 
blindness are?

I'm teaching a class this quarter called "straight talk about 
Blindness." One of the assignments I've set my students is a homework 
set, or a set of three thought-provokers. One of the questions on this 
assignment is: why is it that blindness is so ambiguous? Why is it that 
we're both amazing yet helpless, intelligent yet ignorant, and virtuous 
yet sinful all in the same person and moment in time? Realistically 
speaking, a person can logically be all of these traits at once, but 
surely not as a direct result of being blind. What do all of you think? 
Why is blindness so ambiguous to the point where we call to mind such 
opposite traits all at once just because we can't see? If it's okay 
with all of you, i'd like to collect your responses and share them with 
my class. Of course, no names will be mentioned or tied to your responses.

Original message:

> 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
> errands.

> 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
> well."

> 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
> himself.

> "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
> school."

> "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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