On January 5, 2014 in the Opinion/Editorials section of the New York Times, I read the most compelling and straightforward article about fears, phobias and misunderstandings about the blind. The article was written by Rosemary Mahoneyjan, author of the upcoming book “For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind."
I appreciated her boldness and honesty when talking about a topic that people can often be uncomfortable discussing. People really do fear the blind and this fear has been on-going for a long time. She starts off by sharing some of the historical misconceptions about people who are blind.
She says, "They have variously been perceived as pitiable idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or as mystics possessed of supernatural powers. One of the most persistent misconceptions about blindness is that it is a curse from God for misdeeds perpetrated in a past life, which cloaks the blind person in spiritual darkness and makes him not just dangerous but evil.”
In my years as a blind person, I have experienced all of this and much more. There have been times when my intelligence was challenged or where I was perceived as either being very close to God having more spirituality or totally removed from God and cursed.
She shares about her experience working as a teacher with blind children in the program Braille Without Borders, an international organization that provides training programs and Braille literacy. She talked about the isolation, fear, ignorance and hostility toward her students. But what is interesting is that these same things happen right here in the United States today. She says, “The United States has one of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the world, and yet blindness is still among the most feared physical afflictions. Even in this country, the blind are perceived as a people apart.”
An international blind list group that I participate in discussed the New York Times article. Some of the people in the list group that live in other countries were surprise that the same things that happen to the blind in their countries also happens in the United States. I am not unsurprised by this because human nature and fear can be the same all over the world. As humans we fear what we don’t understand or cannot relate to. Blindness can be something that is unconceivable and hard to imagine.
Out of our five senses, vision is premium providing endless amounts of information. Facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a huge part of how we interact with each other. So if a person is blind how do you interact? How do you have a conversation? How do you share common experiences? How do you connect?
Because we depend so heavily on our vision, we can’t even phathom how to live without it. People pepper me with questions on a regular basis about my life as a blind person. How do you get dressed? How do you put on your makeup? How do you cook? Do you work anywhere? If so, what kind of work do you do? How do you travel? Do you live alone? Do you have children? And the list goes on and on. People are naturally curious and fascinated at how those of us who are blind live our lives. They just can’t imagine that we are able to function and live a happy, prosperous and successful life.
With that being said, the perception of the blind can be that we are amazing, inspirational and super heroes. Even though I appreciate the compliments, I am just a regular everyday person like most people. I get stressed out at times. I laugh at a funny joke. I cry watching a sad movie. I have bad hair days. I live my life much like everyone else. We have to be careful that in our desire to esteem the blind, we don’t go overboard in a way that becomes insulting. Rosemary says, “I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness. There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability and daring.” I personally appreciate this comment and think it can apply to all people - sighted or blind.
I encourage you to read the article and share your thoughts. Why do you think people fear the blind? Can anything be done about it? If so, what? Let’s discuss and help change the negative thoughts and attitudes about blindness. Share your ideas in the comment section below.