Meshoppen, PA (PressExposure) February 10, 2009 -- The CDC projects a three-fold increase in diabetic related blindness among working-age Americans by 2050. Prospects of soaring disability benefits within an already strapped system have sparked desperate calls for a cure. But, must it be a choice between a cure and massive spending on nonproductive workers? The volunteer-run nonprofit Performing Arts Division of the National Federation of the Blind (PAD, NFB): http://www.padnfb.org
Doesnât think so.
Suggesting a third alternative seems foolhardy. Seventy percent of working-age, blind Americans are unemployed. One third live in low income households. Despite legislative changes, unemployment stats for blind Americans havenât budged.
Nonetheless, there are blind lawyers, recording engineers, chemists, journalists, mechanics, etc. Blind people live, travel, cook and shop independently. Accessible technology enables unprecedented participation in society
Why the dichotomy? Laws could be refined to promote the hiring of blind people and the teaching of Braille. Only ten percent of blind kids are taught this common link among successful blind people. More rehab funding wouldnât hurt. The true obstacle to successful adjustment to blindness, however, is a societal matter.
A cruel irony -- unparalleled in other minorities -- accompanies blindness. Men donât wake up as women and whites donât just âgo blackâ. This, however, is what happens in most cases of blindness. Most blind people lose their vision as adults . Growing up sighted, they develop disturbing opinions about what blindness means. Overcoming beliefs that blindness consigns one to dependence, inactivity and uselessness is the major obstacle facing newly blinded adults, not learning to use a talking computer, Braille or a guide dog.
A 1991 Louis Harris poll illuminates the issue. The National Organization on Disability (NOD) commissioned them to define American perspectives on disabilities. The survey summary states, âThe public views disabled people as fundamentally different than the rest of the population, feeling admiration and pity most often. Embarrassment, apathy and fear are also common.â
Most of us understand why people wouldnât like being pitied, but the admiration part may be a surprise. Itâs not admiring someone for their talents and abilities. Itâs being overly impressed with the ordinary.
For blind people, the âglass ceilingâ is more of a brick wall. Imagine trying to interest prospective employers in your abilities when they are feeling sorry for you or when they are overcome with amazement that you actually got to the interview and can hold a conversation without staring into space.
What has enabled America to rethink its prejudices about other groups? The answer, fitting for our popular-culture-driven society, is media presence. Black entertainers were catalysts for the decades of change which enabled us to elect our first African-American president. Conversely, there hasnât been a new, blind American superstar in decades. Worse yet, the only famous blind woman most people know is Helen Keller, who died over fifty years ago.
PAD understands this and supports blind entertainers through scholarships, subsidies and networking. Sales of the âSound in Sightâ CD, a multi-genre compilation of eighteen original tracks and covers, donated by blind recording artists, fund these programs. Hear clips at: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/padotnfotb
PAD hopes that, as Americans enjoy more talented blind entertainers, understanding and opportunities will improve for all blind people.