Posts Tagged ‘Black Lives Matter’

Reid My Mind Radio – Are Blind Conferences Fantasy

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Back from another Pennsylvania Council of the Blind Conference. This is not a recap.

After all of these years, this was the first time I recall hearing that such conferences  have been described as fantasy. Fantastic! Yes, but I never heard them described as being a fantasy.

Unicorn with Sunglasses

You could say this is my opinion on  the idea or you could just say it’s what was on my mind!

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Transcript:

Just about two weeks ago now, I attended my 11th conference of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.

My first conference was in 2006. I attended with a group representing the newly formed Monroe County  Council of the Blind or as we called it MCCB. We were considered a young, energetic  and extremely enthusiastic bunch of new comers to the organization.

Most of the group were newly adjusting to blindness. The MCCB itself was formed after we met at a local support group and decided we wanted to do more with our energy than talk about the issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for talking and sharing our stories to help one another better manage the experience, but for many of us we were used to doing more and had a need to put our energy to good use.

I’m sure each of us who attended that first conference had our own expectations. I don’t fully remember what I expected, but I know I was open to learning. I can definitely recall trying to process so many different emotions throughout the weekend and during the first few weeks to follow.

Even today some things really stand out from the experience.

Like when one of our members Mary Ann,  was given a Braille menu at an Olive Garden during dinner on our first night at the conference.

Her excitement was infectious! It was just a menu! In fact, it was just Olive Garden – no shots, I enjoy the breadsticks and salad!

As the only proficient Braille reader in the group, Mary Ann immediately designated herself as the official menu reader for the rest of the group who did not read Braille, but even for those who could read print.
And the group honored that request, not as though they had a choice!

As a new advocate at the time, I was both excited for her but yet upset that she was still so surprised by the availability of the menu. Obviously something she did not experience often.

The next morning, I got my first glimpse of an accessible tour of what I recall was a train museum.

The tour guides used descriptive language as opposed to assuming everyone could see and recognize various features about the characteristics of these historic trains.

Some of the materials were available in alternative formats to standard print including Braille and large print for those with low vision

This may not seem like a big deal for those in the know, but when you’re new to blindness and beginning to believe you have to get used to just missing out on certain things;
observing that it doesn’t really take that much effort to be included, well it’s a real awakening.

I recently heard these types of tours and activities or even the conferences themselves  described  as fantasy.
The idea is that this is not and will never be the real world. The real world I guess in the minds of those who believe this is fantasy will always  exclusively cater only to those with sight and forever exclude people with vision loss.

At various times  throughout my journey with vision loss I came close to believing things can’t change. My struggle with cynicism was only made worse  with the random encounters with those who remind me that they see me first as a blind man and their definition of that goes beyond my inability to see.
For them it’s the subconscious stereotypes and misperceptions that create their image of who I am. the things I do or don’t do are viewed through a lens painted with layers of misinformation that so much of society has been lead to believe about blindness and disability.

Being conscious of that  comes with a price.
I can sometimes put more pressure on myself to   do something “right” believing that if I veer off course or make a simple mistake I may confirmed a false truth about blindness.

The fantasy world of blind conferences or conventions actually provided me a place to practice all of my blindness skills in a friendly atmosphere.
These conferences also  offered me a chance to relieve myself of the burden of believing I had to represent every blind person in the world.

There are times when I can get up from my chair during a conference  and almost perfectly walk out of the room using my white cane and easily navigate my way to my destination.

Then there are the other times when I get a little side tracked for various reasons.

These conferences have over the years taught me that both results are okay.
There’s no perfection.
People with all levels of  Orientation and mobility skills have and do both.  People with 20/20 vision do both.

it’s not my responsibility to explain how my cane tapping against  a planter or some obstacle in the middle of the room is not a sign that I am lost, but rather me gaining access to that information to determine which is the best course to avoid that obstacle.

I can’t change what someone else sees. This is determined by their experience and knowledge , not me. I know there are those who will lump all people who are blind together.
We share the experience of blindness, but for many that’s it! We’re different in so many ways.

Maybe these conferences are considered fantasy based on the cooperation and the way people tend to work together.

Since that first conference, I watched how people with all different levels of vision loss could help one another.

The person in the elevator who has low vision searching for the right button extends their gratitude to the person with no sight whatsoever who quickly identifies the button using Braille.

the teamwork of one gentleman using his white cane while  supporting a man with both vision loss and mobility challenges , slowly losing his strength, make his way to his hotel room.

Throughout the weekend, I witnessed people  all in support of one another. I saw more to blindness than I did prior to the conference. It confirmed that  not only was I right in thinking my vision loss didn’t have to mean more than I can’t see. It didn’t reduce who I am as a person. it didn’t put me in another class of people. It didn’t in any way impact my competence, my manhood my spirit. It simply means my eyes no longer work and I need to figure out other ways to get the information that I need to do certain things.

Since 2007 I’ve been a part of the conference planning team and I have been the coordinator  since about 2010 . My hope each year is that those newly adjusting to blindness will walk away from the conference  believing  that what some see as a fantasy is really inevitable.

There are changing demographics that make accessibility  a much more mainstream term today than even in 2004 when I was first introduced to that word.

Companies like Apple have committed to accessibility  making so many things usable for people with disabilities.
Smart phones and their apps
Television and movies along with audio description
indoor navigation which basically brings  GPS inside.

All of this progress is real!
We can touch it,  put it to use today and measure its effectiveness.

However, we’re not able to count the degree in which the attitudes are changing.

For many people the last few years have been an awakening to things that have existed since this country’s beginning.

The police brutality against people of color
Law enforcement’s corruption and cover ups of these incidents
Racist ideologies and behavior throughout society.

Camera’s and demagogues like Trump bring all of this to the forefront for all to see and confront.

Meanwhile those in the communities effected have been raising their voices in protest forever. The larger society not wanting to believe it or refusing to believe this could be true simply lowered the volume control and went on with their lives.

Blindness according to multiple surveys is ranked as America’s greatest fear… even more than death.

Some of these surveys are as recent as August 2016.

We know that people fear what they don’t know or understand.

This level of ignorance in 2016 is not surprising  but also not excusable.

The other side of this ignorance are those who are overly amazed by blind people living their lives every day.

Successfully living lives shouldn’t be considered amazing.

Maybe then we raise the bar for what we expect from people with vision loss and others with disabilities. And there’s no doubt that these expectations would be met.

In no way will I frame my perspective as a fantasy. It’s in progress. The more access gained the more people will have a chance to hear our voices, learn of our stories and rid themselves of their fears. It’s happening, just watch!