Since losing my sight, I have been fortunate to meet other individuals who are also going through the loss of sight. In December 2005, eight of us joined forces to create the Monroe County Council of the Blind. This organization is a local chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind who in turn is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind.
One of the main purposes of this organization is to advocate on behalf of the visually impaired and blind community. Our agenda includes securing accessible transportation, increasing social and economic opportunities and changing the way people view and perceive the blind community. It is my opinion that the latter is one of the most important issues we face.
Images of visually impaired and blind people are often in one of two categories; the bumbling fool or the super natural person with extraordinary senses. Examples of each are Mr. Magoo and the comic book character Daredevil respectively.
When I initially lost my sight, I had many people ask the question, “Has your hearing gotten better?” Many people believe that senses are automatically heightened when you lose another. Although, I don’t recall any cartoons or comic books about people in wheel chairs or hearing impaired heroes with amazing sight. If I had to choose a stereotype I would choose the Daredevil over the stumbling fool. It is a personal mission of mine to assure that when I am in public I navigate my environment as best as I possibly can without drawing any negative attention to myself.
Why is changing perceptions of blind people so important?
When people buy into stereotypes and the belief that all of any group of people have a specific characteristic or trait, the individual is reduced to less than a person.
When people don’t see the humanity in a person they are “justified” in their mis treatment. Empathy by definition is the ability to think and feel oneself into the lives of others. If more people concentrated less on the differences and more on the similarities they have with blind people, negative treatment would cease to exist.
Finally, belief in stereotypes and internalizing negative images of blind people is not limited to the sighted community. Many blind people seem to accept the limitations placed on them by these stereotypes. I have witnessed first hand how many blind people limit themselves because of their lack of sight. It is one of the main challenges after losing sight to not succumb to these negative thoughts.
The MCCB has recently taken on the challenge of dispelling these myths and altering the way we our viewed in our community. We have completed our first event that featured three other members discussing topics like dispelling the myths, truths about service dogs and what they really do and training people in the proper sighted guide technique – the method for assisting a blind person in navigating unfamiliar surroundings.
We plan to continue these presentations and even tailor the discussions to specific audiences. One of our targets is the medical community. Some of the worst offenders are ironically in the medical field. Including doctors. Maybe one day I will post some of my interesting doctor visits and the medical community’s reaction to me as a blind person.