Advocacy

Why Use The Word Blind? by James H. Omvig

Why Use the Word “Blind”?
nfb.org

Why Use the Word “Blind”?

Braille Monitor                                                    January 2009

by James H. Omvig

Jim Omvig
From the Editor: Most Federationists know Jim Omvig. He worked first as a lawyer and later with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission for the Blind.
He also headed the blindness rehabilitation program in the state of Alaska. He has written many articles for the Braille Monitor and published three books
in the last five years. In this era of pointless political correctness he is particularly well equipped to remind us of some important truths. The following
article first appeared in the January 2008 newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of California. This is what Jim Omvig says:

People who cannot see are blind, and the word “blind” is perfectly acceptable–in fact, it is absolutely essential–when one is referring to the lack of
eyesight. In my opinion (I got this opinion from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan), a person is blind–and should learn to refer to himself or herself as blind–when
vision has deteriorated to the point that, to function capably and efficiently, the individual uses alternative (nonvisual) techniques to accomplish the
majority of life’s daily activities. This is true even though there is some residual vision which may well be quite useful for certain limited and specific
purposes.

There are some misuses of the term, of course, which are not desirable at all and which perpetuate negative impressions about blindness. These include
such commonly accepted dictionary definitions as: “unable or unwilling to perceive or understand”; “not based on reason or evidence”; or “lacking reason
or purpose” as in, “he ran blindly off the cliff.”

Until around the middle of the twentieth century, it was common among educators, rehabilitators, sheltered shop workers, and others in work with the blind
to use the word “blind” routinely when referring to people with very limited or no vision, since that is what we are. Then, in the late 1950s and early
1960s, a new phenomenon gradually evolved: a group of master’s-degreed workers—eventually referred to as “blindness professionals”—entered the picture.
It was not long until they, the “experts,” began to take extraordinary measures to get blind people to deny their blindness and to use the slightest amount
of residual vision so they could appear to be, as they put it, “normal”–to be sighted and avoid blindness altogether. Avoid the word “blindness” at any
cost became the mantra. And the cost for many blind people was heavy because that avoidance encouraged them to deny an important part of who they were.

First came the large-print movement–just produce very large and dark print so that blind people with a little vision could read a few words a minute in
the so-called normal way and not “have to learn Braille.” Then, before long, “vision stimulation” was introduced–it was argued that, if blind people would
just try harder to use their very limited vision, they could actually improve sight and again be able to function normally. Of course this was a disaster
and psychologically damaging for many blind people. Then, when tape recorders and computers came along, it was argued all over again that blind people
could avoid Braille and the stigma of blindness and thus appear in yet another way to be normal if they would just jump on the technology bandwagon and
give up literacy.

Along with these new professionals (and their new practices), a new vocabulary was also introduced. The word “blind” went out of vogue. Blind students
who could read a little using very large print became “sight-saving” students. Others (with either limited or no vision at all) soon became “visually impaired,”
“visually limited,” “visually challenged,” “unsighted,” “sightless,” “sight-impaired,” “low vision,” or “hard-of-seeing,” etc. Before long, teachers of
blind children became “vision teachers,” and most recently some among the professionals have become so disconnected with the real world and with blind
people that they have come to call work with the blind “vision rehabilitation therapy.”

“How in the world,” you may ask, “could such a distortion of reality have taken place among the very people who purport to help the blind?” Clearly, the
reason behind it all has been an effort to try to avoid use of the ugly and dirty word, “blind.”

Through all of these machinations the National Federation of the Blind has argued that the word “blind” is best since that’s what we are, but many of our
own members have not been able to articulate the reasons for our position, and some have been lured down the path of visual-impairment circumlocutions.
Here is the short answer for why Dr. Jernigan taught us to do what we do.

In the first place Federationists have long since recognized that, to understand blindness correctly and also to know how properly to educate or rehabilitate
blind people, one must be aware of the fact that blind people as a class are a minority in every negative sense of that term. It is the erroneous and negative
public attitude about blindness that is the real problem with which we must deal. From infancy we have been taught that to be blind is to be helpless,
to be incompetent, and to be inferior. Members of the general public have believed it, and most of us have come to believe it too. In time the blindness
professionals also bought into the erroneous stereotyping and the low expectations that accompany feelings of inferiority.

We must change those erroneous public attitudes–the myths, misconceptions, and superstitions–first, of course, in ourselves and then in the broader society.
We also understand fully that these very negative and mistaken attitudes about the inferiority of the blind have found their way into the educational and
vocational rehabilitation systems. These very mistaken beliefs about blindness drive the professionals’ effort to get their customers to deny their blindness
at any price. And these mistaken beliefs must be eliminated as a key component of any high-quality education or rehabilitation program for the blind.

Finally, we of the Federation have come to know the fundamental truth that blind people are nothing more than normal people who cannot see and that, if
we receive proper (that is effective) training, including appropriate attitudinal adjustment, we can participate fully in society and compete on terms
of absolute equality with our sighted colleagues. We have learned that, for any blind person truly to become empowered and free, a process of what is commonly
called adjustment to blindness is essential. Learning to use the word “blind” with ease and comfort and accepting blindness as a normal fact of life is
a significant ingredient in the process. For it is commonly understood that you cannot change what you are not willing to acknowledge.

To summarize briefly, five major ingredients comprise this healing adjustment to blindness process. One, the blind individual must come to know and feel
emotionally, not just intellectually, that he or she is a normal person who can be just as independent and self-sufficient as sighted people are. Two,
he or she must become competent in the skills (the alternative techniques) of blindness. Three, he or she must learn to cope calmly and rationally with
the strange or unusual things other people do or say because of their complete misunderstanding and lack of accurate information about blindness. Four,
the blind person must learn to blend in to the broader society and to be acceptable to those around him or her. Behavior such as being punctual, neat and
appropriate in appearance, reliable, courteous, and free from blindisms, etc., is important to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes. And, five, the successful
and truly whole blind person will recognize the importance of giving back. This means contributing to society in general and assisting in the organized
blind movement.

Using the word “blind” with ease and comfort is part of the first of these empowering ingredients–coming emotionally, not just intellectually, to know
that he or she can be equal with others in our society. It is also part of this first adjustment ingredient that the blind person comes to know that he
or she is normal and that it is perfectly respectable to be blind.

For an exact analogy on the issues of denial and terminology, consider the struggle by African Americans to achieve equality and freedom. In the 1940s
and ’50s, and even on into the ’60s, some black Americans actually tried to solve their problems by pretending that they weren’t black at all but that
they were white–this practice, denial at its worst, was referred to as “trying to pass.” Some people tried to straighten their naturally curly hair or
lighten the color of their skin. Needless to say, this approach to conquering symptoms of inferiority didn’t work.

Then enlightened and gifted leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came upon the scene. He and others realized that pretending you are something other
than who you really are is fruitless and that the only meaningful way black Americans could ever achieve real freedom, equality, and self-respect was to
accept their blackness and then to work together to make it respectable to be black. Dr. King knew that ultimately you must learn to love yourself as you
are and for who you are to attain true freedom, dignity, and self-respect.

So it is with the blind. If you are blind but pretend that you are sighted–that is, if you engage in what some call the great masquerade, agony and frustration
will be the result. In my own case I pretended (I tried to pass and deny my blindness) for fourteen years–from age twelve to twenty-six–before I encountered
the National Federation of the Blind and became empowered. I have often marveled at the fact that I didn’t develop an extreme case of ulcers during this
painful time of my life. Since I believed that blindness meant inferiority, the fear that someone would learn just how blind I really was was very nearly
unbearable.

This brings us back to the ultimate truth. If you are blind, you are blind. Accept it. Admit it. The very first step in this process is to learn to be
able to say, with neither shame nor embarrassment, “I am blind.” Like other minorities we have a job to do–we must learn to accept our blindness and then
work with concerted action to make it respectable to be blind.

The same is true for professionals in the field of work with the blind. We have no business helping our blind customers (whether they be totally or partially
blind) deny what and who they are and to try to pass or engage in the great masquerade by pandering to their fear of the word “blindness” and what it stands
for in their minds. Rather, we too must learn that it is respectable to be blind. Only then can we truly help to empower and bring freedom to our customers
by helping them accept their blindness.

One final point needs to be made although, if it is not properly understood, it may muddy up everything I have said to this point in this article. When
I am talking about using the word “blind,” I am talking generally about what should be happening regularly in the Federation, university programs, schools
with blind students, or orientation and adjustment centers–in other words, in situations where people are actually involved in some type of positive experience.
When a newly blinded individual is first met, however, and where that initial effort is to get the person interested at all in the Federation or in some
kind of beneficial program, there are times when either we (or school or agency specialists) need to be willing to tread lightly and even use euphemisms
when employing them allows the customer to recognize that the program or activity in question is appropriate and might be helpful.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When I left my job at the National Labor Relations Board in New York City to return to Iowa to work for Kenneth Jernigan
at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, I first did some traveling with other, more experienced staff members to become familiar with each of the Commission’s
jobs. In traveling with one particularly talented VR counselor, I observed her for a few days and scarcely made a comment. Toward the end of the week I
decided that perhaps the time had come for me to participate. To get started I asked a man whom we were visiting, “How long have you been blind?” “Blind”
was not the word I should have used. “I’m not blind!” he screamed out at me with obvious distress.

As a novice, and perhaps as too much of a purist, I had failed to take into account that the people who have not yet accepted their blindness enough even
to get to the point of taking necessary training may need to be dealt with differently from those who have made the decision to get on with their lives.
From that day forward my approach changed completely when dealing with newly blinded people who had not yet agreed to enter a training program. “How long
have you had poor eyesight,” or some meaningless or useless variant thereof, became a routine part of my conversation. I did not want to make that same
mistake again and perhaps even undo what had already been done to begin to persuade that potential new customer to get involved in proper training.

Having understood this last point, we who are blind must become comfortable with who we are as people. As with black Americans, we who are blind must learn
to love ourselves as we are and for who we are, to attain true freedom, dignity, and self-respect.

Once we have come to know intellectually and to feel emotionally that we are normal people and that it is respectable to be blind, then I believe that
we of the Federation have a duty to pass it on so that others may experience the freedom and empowerment which flow from internalizing the truth about
blindness. So by all means use the word “blind” in your daily life and in helping those around you to get rid of the prejudice and low expectations that
flow from a belief that the blind are inferior, but be sparing in its use when you are meeting newly blinded people or members of their families. If you
approach the newly blinded in this way, it will not be long until their attitudes begin to shift. Eventually, of course, we of the Federation intend to
introduce the truth and to teach the whole world that it is respectable to be blind. We can make all of this come true if we stick doggedly to the principle
spelled out by some wise philosopher who said, “Life is action, not a spectator sport.”

 

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Advocacy, Article

Precarious work poses ‘serious consequences’ for millennials’ mental health, report says | The Star

Precarious work poses ‘serious consequences’ for millennials’ mental health, report says | The Star
— Read on www.google.ca/amp/s/www.thestar.com/amp/news/gta/2018/09/01/precarious-work-poses-serious-consequences-for-millennials-mental-health-report-says.html

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Advocacy, blindness, Independent Mobility, Victoria BC

Fundraiser by canadian federation of the blind : LIFE-THREATENING BIKE LANE DESIGN

canadian federation of the blind needs your help today! LIFE-THREATENING BIKE LANE DESIGN – Visually-impaired Victorians need design change to life-threatening bike lanes Support our BC Human Rights case to insist that the City change its ill-conceived, life-threatening design of floating bus stops, such as along Pandora Street, that require transit users to cross a separated bike lane…
— Read on www.gofundme.com/cfb-bike-lanes

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Advocacy, Independent Mobility

Greyhound is turning off the ignition in Western Canada and leaving persons with disabilities on the side of the road, by Albert Ruel

This is not good news for persons with disabilities and those who opt to function without a Driver’s License.  Below are four articles related to the Greyhound Bus closure topic found on CBC News since September 2017.

 

I have been an intercity bus passenger, mostly on Vancouver Island and the BC Interior since August 3, 1978 when I had to relinquish my BC Driver’s License due to failing vision.  Other than periodic flights to some destinations, riding with others who happen to be heading my way, or sometimes recruiting people to facilitate my getting to a chosen destination, I have long relied on Greyhound to get there.  Yes, we have other options now on Vancouver Island, however neither of those other two options offer wheelchair accessible vehicles nor their schedules often require me to spend additional nights in Hotels due to poor rural service.

 

I live in Parksville and when work keeps me in Victoria beyond 3:00 PM I am not able to get all the way home, necessitating a night in a Hotel.  Also, the earliest I can arrive in Victoria is 12:00 Noon because the first bus out of Parksville doesn’t leave until shortly after 9:00 AM.  I remember in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s riding on Greyhound busses that were full or nearly full most of the time, and their schedules made sense.  I could leave for Victoria on the 6:30 or 7:00 AM bus, and I could leave Victoria on the 7:45 PM bus and get home to Parksville, and to Port Alberni where I lived then.

 

It’s been my experience that when Greyhound started to cut back on schedules years ago the ridership went down accordingly, to the point that they have become irrelevant to me and many passengers over time.  Also, the cost of a ticket has gone up to the point where many who live on limited incomes find it difficult to take the bus today.

 

I don’t know what the answer is, however it should be well understood that not everyone has a car in the driveway, and our ability to connect with family and our chosen communities has just been curtailed beyond reason for a country as rich and diverse as Canada.  I hope that Provincial and Federal Governments work with affected Canadians to work out solutions that will work for passengers, and that will allow Intercity and transit operators to provide transportation under profitable and sustainable models.

 

Greyhound to end all bus routes in Western Canada except 1 in B.C.

CBC News, the Canadian Press  Posted: Jul 09, 2018 2:40 PM ET

https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/greyhound-cancellations-alberta-manitoba-saskatchewan-british-columbia-1.4739459

 

‘It’s very disappointing’: Greyhound opts to cut some rural B.C. Interior stops.

Courtney Dickson CBC News Posted: Feb 23, 2018 4:14 PM PT

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/greyhound-southern-interior-1.4549732

 

Goodbye Greyhound? The thread stitching together Canada’s North wears thin.

Yvette Brend  CBC News

Posted: Sep 01, 2017

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/greyhound-bus-canada-transit-northern-routes-health-bc-1.4270314

 

Greyhound plans to continue freight delivery in northern B.C., even if passenger service ends.

Andrew Kurjata CBC News Posted: Sep 01, 2017

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/greyhound-plans-to-continue-freight-delivery-in-northern-b-c-even-if-passenger-service-ends-1.4272476

 

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Advocacy, blindness

Disability and the job churn:

Disability and the job churn
policyalternatives.ca

Disability and the job churn
Author(s):  Katie Raso

Illustration of woman working at a computer

In 2016, Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters that millennials needed to get used to “job churn,” a career path eked out from short-term and precarious
work. Prime Minister Trudeau welcomed the idea of the churn, saying that changing jobs frequently allowed workers to have new experiences. But treating
growing precarity as the welcome and inevitable evolution of Canada’s job market shifts undue burden onto workers: if you are struggling to exist in this
new system, it’s not the system’s fault. It’s yours for not being resilient enough.

The “job churn” celebrates the notion of the grind, glorifies busyness and encourages abandonment of any semblance of work/life balance. Good things come
to those who hustle, we are told. This new intensified employment landscapeee, with its increased expectations and decreased protections for workers, is
simply not a possibility for many people, and it leaves disabled Canadians totally sidelined.

***

For the 10.1% of working-age Canadians who are disabled, struggling to find full employment is already a churn. Before getting to why that’s the case,
some housekeeping on the term disability is needed.

For the purposes of this article, disabled workers are those individuals who are or want to be in the labour force who also have a physical or mental disability.
Physical disabilities may be visible (related to mobility, for example) or invisible (chronic illnesses). Mental disabilities include mental illness (like
post-traumatic stress disorder), neurodevelopmental disorders (autism) and learning disabilities (dyslexia). Statistics Canada delineates disability into
10 categories: pain related, dexterity, developmental, mobility, flexibility, hearing, mental health, memory, learning, and seeing.

Canadians with disabilities face exceptionally high rates of unemployment. Over 400,000 disabled working-age Canadians are currently unemployed despite
being willing and able to work. While Canada’s unemployment rate is currently sitting at about 5.8%, the rate for disabled Canadians is much higher. Canadians
with “mild” disabilities are most likely to find employment, and their unemployment rate is 35%. For those with “severe” disabilities, the rate jumps to
74%. Put another way, for every one person with a “severe” disability who finds work, three do not.

When disabled workers do find employment it is often in sales, and they make far less money than their abled counterparts. While the median personal income
in 2012 for a Canadian worker was $31,200, for disabled workers it ranged from $10,800 to $24,200 depending on their disability type. “As a result,”
researcher Michael Prince laments,
“Canadians with disabilities have not seen the promise of equality of opportunity in the labour market fulfilled.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the federal government introduced several anti-discrimination and employment equity measures designed to reduce barriers to employment.
The Employment Equity Act, for example, requires employers to be proactive in identifying and eliminating employment barriers against persons in four designated
groups: women, “visible minorities” or racialized people, people with disabilities, and Indigenous peoples. Similarly, the Canadian Human Rights Act states
that employers have a duty to accommodate disabled employees and to take all steps short of undue hardship to eliminate discrimination.

But legislation on its own has not addressed the divide between disabled workers and the rest of the workforce. Between 13.5% and 34.6% of disabled workers
believe they have been refused a job in the past five years because of their disability. More broadly,
a recent BMO survey
found that 48% of Canadians “believe a person is more likely to be hired or promoted if they hide their disability.” Given both these findings, it is
not surprising that 20.4% to 36.7% of
Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD)
respondents reported that their employer was unaware of their disability.

More than 30 years after anti-discrimination measures were enacted, people with disabilities continue to face discrimination while looking for work and
“experience additional disadvantages such as lower compensation and weaker job tenure,” according to CSD reports. Clearly, the work to eliminate discrimination
and barriers facing disabled Canadians has been left unfinished.

Rather than assessing where the failures are in the policies we’ve enacted, our leaders are pressing ahead with unbridled enthusiasm into the churn, leaving
disabled workers to navigate a gig economy with even fewer protections than the broken system we had before.

***

The gig economy refers to an employment landscape wherein temporary positions are common, if not the norm, and organizations contract with independent
labourers for parcels of work (bit jobs). Though the arrival of app-driven employers like Uber, Upwork and Hyr gets much of the attention when we talk
about “job churn,” temp agencies, zero-hour contracts (i.e., short-notice retail shifts) and declining union membership all contribute to today’s rise
in precarious forms of work. According to
Randstad Canada,
freelancers, independent contractors and consultants now make up 20-30% of the Canadian workforce. More notably, 85% of the companies surveyed by Randstad
intend to adopt a more “agile workforce” in the near future.

What makes the gig economy so alluring for employers is that it shifts a great deal of risk and responsibility to workers. Gig employers have lower overhead
costs. Drivers for Uber, for example, provide their own cars. Workers with
Hyr
are classified as independent contractors and, as such, restaurants hiring them need not contribute to their CPP or EI.
Upwork
allows firms to completely outsource all their creative and clerical needs.

So where do disabled workers fit in? Duty to accommodate states that employers are required to address employment barriers with one exception: the Bona
Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR). An employer can argue that they do not have a duty to accommodate if an aspect of a job cannot be modified or adapted
without undue hardship for the employer.

The gig economy, which has stripped away employers’ responsibilities to their employees, has created an entire labour ecosystem within the BFOR loophole.
It is a labour market that survives on nimbleness and just-in-time delivery of labour’s services, a system that by design does not have room for accommodation,
especially not a disabled worker’s need for an adapted schedule or access to assistive devices, for example.

***

While the gig economy is a subsection within Canada’s labour market, its ethos helps shape the broader employment environment wherein millennials (born
between the early 1980s and early 2000s) are increasingly told that they need to settle for less.

The
Poverty and Employment in Southern Ontario research project
(PEPSO) reports that 52.9% of non-unionized workers aged 25-44 don’t have health benefits and 47.7% don’t have paid time off from work. Benefits are critically
important for disabled workers as more than three-quarters of people with disabilities take prescription medication.

The medication issue speaks to the larger vulnerability that disabled workers now face in Canada’s changing labour landscape. Increasingly, disabled millennials
looking for work are reading job postings whose details subtly suggest the employer is only interested in hiring abled workers.

In advance of writing this article, I asked a group of disabled millennials to tell me what key words in job postings cause them to self-select out of
applying for work. At the top of the list were ideal candidate descriptors like plucky, high energy, able to go above and beyond, enthusiastic, and always
on. When it comes to duty descriptions, the workers who spoke to me said their red flags were around being expected to take on extra evening and weekend
work, and to strive for perfect attendance (sometimes incentivized through bonuses).

From these conversations, a clear image begins to form of the working world that disabled millennials navigate. Yes, Mr. Morneau, it is one that is shaped
by churn culture.

These postings go beyond a mentality of doing less with more. They are looking for gig-style availability from their employees: always on, always ready
to jump in on a project regardless of the hour, their health at the moment, and whether overtime will be compensated. Even job postings that end with accessibility
statements paint a picture of their ideal candidate as someone who might need accommodation but would never ask for it—because they are so grateful for
the work and so enthusiastic about being part of the team.

This climate leaves disabled millennials with an impossible choice: apply for jobs that expect the successful candidate to be “always on” and risk declining
health to meet these expectations, or try to find a workplace that isn’t operating under a maximum extraction approach to management. Increasingly, those
positions are harder and harder to find.

With the federal government celebrating flexible employment there’s an obvious lack of political will to ensure that disabled Canadians are able to pursue
meaningful careers. It’s not enough to shrug off this marginalization of disabled workers as the cost of innovation. Over a million Canadians are waiting
for the employment equity measures of the last century to take hold and for a guarantee that the coming churn won’t leave them in tatters.

Katie Raso is Digital Communications Officer at the CCPA and has worked with a variety of progressive organizations including Canadian Doctors for Medicare
in Toronto and Media Democracy Days in Vancouver.

 

 

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