Attitudes and Expectations
By Nancy Burns
(Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in the September 2013 issue of Que Pasa, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico.)
It has been written about the ancient poet Homer that he was compensated for his blindness with the gift of poetry. Such reflections are made all too often about those of us who happen to be blind. Is it possible that Homer was a talented poet and just happened to be a blind guy?
Such attitudes and beliefs about blindness and vision loss have been handed down through the centuries. The disturbing factor is that even today too many of these misconceptions are still alive and well. For example, the sixth sense is an attribute often given to blind people. Much of society seems to believe that if a person is blind, this person's other senses are greatly improved. Of course, this is not the case. We simply learn to use our other senses more effectively.
Literature, television, and movies have, unfortunately, played a role in perpetuating many of these negative stereotypes. These industries want stories that will sell and consequently, reality is often missing. Granted, we live in a visually oriented world. Generally, when people close their eyes and try to imagine how they might function as a blind person, they conclude that they could not. This is in fact, true, because blindness-related training (such as the use of Braille and mobility skills) accompanied by a positive attitude are essential for a blind person to live a successful and independent life. But it takes something else: it takes open-mindedness from others. It also takes realistic expectations. The role of the parent of a blind child is critical. If low expectations exist, it is doubtful that this child will become a highly functioning adult. These expectations, or lack thereof, play a significant role in the attitudes towards people who happen to be blind.
Society has opted to perpetuate these inaccurate and damaging stereotypes about any person with a disability. Myriad commercials are cranked out portraying the beautiful, perfect person who wears the trendy designer clothing and brushes with the most popular toothpaste. What has happened to reality? Is there no room for individuality in this world? Since societal attitudes have created this distorted picture of reality, it is now society's responsibility to correct these false images and to promote a more accurate definition of a person who happens to be "different.”
An ongoing goal of the NFB has been, and is, to bring these very important issues to the world around us. Each member of this organization is an ambassador of the truth as we take our message to the public. These stereotypes have existed for centuries, and the harsh reality is that change cannot happen overnight. All of us, as blind or visually impaired people, bear the responsibility of assisting in this process of changing what it means to be blind.