It is not my intention to turn this into another blog by a blind guy. That is to say, I don’t want my disability to become the central focus of my life and, by reflection, these writings. A lot of blind bloggers do that. Their posts, their social media expressions, their lives, are all wrapped up in their daily existence as a blind person. They write about technology, Braille, guide dogs, dating, accessibility, canes, politics…all from the perspective of someone who is disabled.
I don’t want to do that. My blindness represents only one facet of myself. We can debate how significant a facet (sometimes I vacillate on the question), but it’s only one part of a much greater whole.
That being said, I don’t want to ignore the issue altogether. I seriously considered it when I first created this blog. I thought about focusing solely on politics, entertainment and occasionally, my personal feelings, all the while ignoring the fact that I am blind. The omission of the discussion, a discussion that is central in the lives of other blind people, would, in and of itself, be a statement.
My friend Art changed my mind. Art has, to my knowledge, never met a blind person. Art has many questions and there are many things he doesn’t know. Why should I deny him the chance to become enlightened? Moreover, why am I above explaining my situation to another person who is willing to learn? Yes, I sometimes grow weary of being saddled with the role of a reluctant educator. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it. But I’ve got it.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
I was having a conversation with an intern at work yesterday and she claimed that we have an anti sighted bias here in the office. She said this because my boss, the founder of our company, is also blind. She was trying to explain a point about technology to him during a meeting and he didn’t seem to get it. Then I came in and, according to the intern, I explained the very same point to him and he agreed with it. In her mind, this constitutes an anti sighted bias.
Anyone reading this who is blind will scoff aloud. Any sighted person reading this may very well scratch their head and go, “Hmmm. I never thought about it.” And why should they? Blind people are such a statistically insignificant number in society compared to other “minorities,” that we don’t come up on the collective radar of the sighted. We as blind people get so comfortable living in our own skins and our own culture that we forget this very obvious fact. In the grand scheme of things, we are an infinitesimal number.
Let us talk then of biases.
The point my boss was asking about concerned technology. As the operations manager, my workspace is located in the control room; an area populated by computers, Behringer Boxes, speakers, KVM switches, a sound board, routers, a Perkins Braillewriter, breakout boxes, a tabletop microphone, telephones, an ATA Box, my Darth Vader’s head coffee mug, more computers and two cabinets full of dusty equipment circa 1990. We are a radio reading service for the blind who’s founder has a progressive view of the employment of blind people. To that end, our broadcast systems are all geared to be accessible with screen-reading software. Our websites are set up in a visually simplified format so as to be compatible with the same kinds of text-to-speech software. Blind people are well aware of programs such as JAWS, Voice-Over, the KNFB Reader, The Seeing Eye, Zoomtext and other programs that make the printed word accessible.
Every day, we try to discover ways to make our services more available to our audience, thus increasing listenership and bringing in new members. The easier we make it for blind people to listen, the more successful we are in our mission. There is no reason for a sighted intern who, up until she came to work here, probably never got to know a blind person in depth, should be aware of things like Speakup and Double Talk. David, my boss, is well aware of it, because he lives the life of a blind person every day. He is also well aware that I am blind and I therefore have an inherent knowledge of the products and methodology that can best be applied to the situation.
When the intern voiced her concerns to me, I told her that, in the realm of technology, the boss may very well have a bias toward my opinion as a blind person. But this is not born of contempt or dismissal of her merely because she has sight. It’s a matter of being knowledgeable on a particular issue that is gleaned from life experiences.
Though my boss does defer to my blind volunteer coworker and myself for advice on tech, we’re not the only ones. John is another volunteer who works in the tech area, but he is sighted. I don’t consider him to be smarter or dumber than the rest of us. He merely looks at a problem from a different angle. Moreover, the vast majority of the staff here at my workplace are fully sighted. The boss defers to their judgment when it is appropriate. He doesn’t ask for my opinion about grant writing or Spanish outreach any more than he would ask Bethany, our listener coordinator, about repairing a breeched firewall.
My coworker Curtis (nicknamed, The Evil Genius), takes a different view. He says, “Sighted people have been demonstrating a bias toward the blind for hundreds of thousands of years. We ought to have it the other way around.” You can probably surmise that Curtis is blind. He comes from a different generation when discrimination against the blind was more overt and political correctness was as fanciful as a Ray Bradbury novel.
It is sorely tempting to think this way. I’ve heard other minorities express this view. They did it to us, so let’s turn around and stick it to them. By that logic, women would castrate men, blacks would enslave whites, fat people would beat up skinny people and gay people would illegalize every straight marriage in America.
What do we want to accomplish by the ‘payback’s a bitch’ defense? The stark reality is that we live in a sighted world. If we adopted Curtis’s view and instituted an overt bias against sighted people here at work, what would it gain us? The answer is…nothing!!! I could go out tomorrow, find a random sighted person and gouge out his eyes with an ice pick. After he recovered from the physical trauma, he would have a lot more empathy for my situation. Aside from that, all I would achieve at the end of said venture is a jail term and a regular rectal dilation courtesy of my cellmate.
As angry as I get at the random sighted person who thinks it’s acceptable to put his hands on me without my permission; as frustrated as I get at sighted people who talk around me like I’m not there, or who condescend to me as if I’m a child or a pet; as tired as I get of being told that I can’t be accommodated because of a lack of proper equipment, I still believe that an informative dialogue with sighted people is the best means of striving toward equality. I wish more “minorities,” would take this view and relinquish the grievance game for a more good-willed, substantive approach to relations.
If you are able to read between the lines, you’ve probably already figured some things out about the intern. She is…eccentric. But then, I’m a Republican. I’m sure she feels the same way about me. The difference is that I am paid staff and she’s just a lowly intern. John, if you’re reading this, go tell her that for me, would ya?