Thursday, April 21, 2011

Blindisms- Are you guilty of these?

[This was my second speech for Toastmaster’s International. The objective was to organize my thoughts with a clear goal in mind. I talked about a topic that I have always wanted to share with people ever since I started working at the Braille Institute.]

A person with a badge with the letters V.I.P is standing next to me. A conversation occurs:

Me: Excuse me, I am trying to get to DeAnza Boulevard and Prospect Drive. Do you know where that is?

Other: Sure. Take this bus and get off at the third stop. Walk about 5 feet and take the bus at that stop. That should get you where you need to go.

Me: Thank you!

A similar conversation took place about five years ago. It wasn’t an unusual exchange as you saw. I asked for directions at a bus stop and was kindly given an answer. Instead, I want to bring the entire focus on the man that helped me. He is someone who one of my acquaintances would call a VIP; in other words, a ‘visually impaired person’. This acquaintance is herself blind so she uses this acronym in a light-hearted way.  

Today, I want to talk about a concept that is frequently discussed amongst VIPs called “blindisms”.“Blindisms” is a term coined by one of the instructors that I assist at the Braille Institute. These are ideas, perceptions, and mainly misconceptions that many of us sighted people might fall into. I want to focus on only two of these “blindisms” that the visually impaired community wants the rest of us to know. I talk about the following two specifically because they come up often in conversations amongst the students at the Braille Institute.

First, you can’t always tell whether someone is blind.  Although we might imagine a blind person to ‘look’ or ‘act’ a certain way, like carry a cane or perhaps have their eyes look ‘different’, there will be many VIPs that do not fit into that mold. As an example, although a white cane can be an identifier for us to know if someone is blind, not every VIP feels comfortable carrying one. I met an elderly lady who lost her sight due to glaucoma and macular degeneration and because she was an independent woman all her life, she said it was hard for her to rely on a cane. She refused to use one and thus, most people would not know just by looking at her that she is actually blind.

Secondly, visual impairment is not only limited to complete blindness. In fact, only about 10 percent of all blindness is one that causes its recipient to be in ‘complete darkness’. The rest either have only light perception, or their central vision is intact and they see nothing in the periphery.  For example, I met someone who said that people at the grocery store wouldn’t believe her when she said she was legally blind because she was previously seen reading (or trying to read) some signs (though she had to stand touching her nose to the sign to figure out what it said). So, you might have some vision, but this certainly does not mean that it is any easier to complete daily tasks in a sighted world.

Like I said earlier, there are many “blindisms”, but I presented you with the two most common. The reason I talked about these was the frequency with which they occur and with the hope that by sharing  them, I inspired us all to recognize the diversity that exists in the VIP world.

[The speech was very good, according to my evaluator, but the conclusion was too abrupt. I felt that I stumbled many times, but apparently no one noticed.]


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