Blindness should not be about image

Usually I am integrated with sighted people doing what I do, in the way of writing and my career but there are those rare occasions when I will be around a group of blind people, some who know me, others who don’t know me and who recognize me, and others still who have never heard of me and want to know more about me.

Among all the main questions asked, such as where did you get that amazing pale complexion, what kind of music do you listen to, what kind of movies do you like, and, my personal favorite, do you live alone? I’m asked a question without fail, every time that I meet another blind or visually impaired person. That question is…

“What’s your affiliation?”

To all my sighted readers, you’re scratching your head wondering what context that question could have. Look up blindness advocacy groups in the United States. The question is usually, though, a long winded way of asking who I’m with, the ACB, American Council of the Blind, or the NFB, National Federation of the Blind. If you’re sighted and have no idea what I’m talking about, I won’t explain them. That’s what Google is for but I do want to make an observation.

I am an independent blind person, meaning I don’t have any strong affiliation with any group and I will never have a strong affiliation with any group. I’m the kind of blind person who’s involved in both, and even more, doing various things, and participating at various events. I’ve even collaborated with and supported AFB, American Foundation of the Blind and many others, some even in the UK.

The stereotypical notion that’s floating around the blindness community at the moment is one that seems to be getting stronger every day. If you’re blind than you have to be either one or the other. Your work just can’t span across multiple organizations and support groups because that isn’t normal. If you’re blind, you’re locked into one group and one group only.

I am definitely not and there’s a good reason why I am not a strict member of any, nor do I identify myself with any one affiliation. Why? Because then my image will be shaped along with my affiliation because these groups have shaped images of blind people rather than focused on integrating the blind and the sighted together.

That’s a consistent problem in all of the groups though, not just one. Even though they all have their own mission statements and values and goals that they want to achieve, all of that is shadowed by the image that they want to show sighted people. They have to do things a certain way, act a certain way, fight for certain causes, because sighted people will look at it a certain way, and thus, our images will be improved, supposedly.

Just for reference, I will post links to their mission statements below, ACB and NFB.

ACB mission statement

NFB mission statement

Those are splendid mission statements that clearly outline what they do. It sounds as if they know how to improve their advocacy niche to make an inclusive country. The reality is, the image of the blind is way more important and it shouldn’t be.

Whenever I see a convention, among any group, there’s always talk about changing the way sighted people interact with us, that we have to do our parts to show sighted people that we can do this or that and that we fight for these causes. Why do they need to know that in 2014? Instead of telling us that why don’t groups do more to ensure accessibility across educational and entertainment venues equally rather than clambering to be on the news because we are doing a cause. Shouldn’t we all work on our own causes that are dear and near to our hearts in order to create an accessible world?

A big thing for all of these groups is mainstream media attention. They want to have the media report on what they are doing now rather than doing what their mission statement says they do.

Why do blind people have to be in the news talking about their affiliation with a blindness advocacy group and not what they are doing as an active member? Why do all blind people have to side with one cause or the other? The groups shouldn’t even be trying to change the world into a blind world, but each group needs to focus on their niche advocacy arena to, eventually, create an accessible world for all, and not clamber to be the best advocate or the quickest or the fiercest.

All of the groups are too worried about being better than the other in one way or another instead of doing what their mission statements say they do. I don’t understand how that’s making sure our lives are accessible and thriving. Instead of shaping sighted images, we should be making improvements regardless of what the other is doing. I think I have a solid idea for a more accessible country, but perhaps I’m just not seeing the bigger, more important picture.

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Robert W Kingett

Robert Kingett is a gay blind journalist, and author, with many publications in magazines, anthologies, and blogs. He has judged many writing contests and has won many awards for his writings and advocacy.

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