Advocacy, Article

Love Conquers Hate: An Open Letter from President Riccobono to NFB Members

An Open Letter to the Members of the National Federation of the Blind

 

I write this message to you as the elected President of the National Federation of the Blind. I also write it to you as an American who is struggling this week. I call upon members of our organization to recognize the solidarity we share as blind people and that the value we place on love within our movement is needed more today than at any other time in our history.

 

I watched the horrific video shot by a brave seventeen year-old of the killing of George Floyd, a citizen of our great nation. Before I watched the video, I wondered what I could do and how I could contribute to healing the pain. I had no answers. After I watched the video, I realized I still did not have the answers and I was sad, angry, scared, frustrated, and without hope. Then I realized that we share tools in the National Federation of the Blind that can help. We can not look away and we need to share what we know from our experience in this people’s movement.

 

Our movement has been sustained for the purpose of serving as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind. While racial equality in our nation is not within our mission, we also recognize that blindness affects all races and that the society we live within has an impact on our membership.

 

The Federation’s Code of Conduct<https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nfb.org%2Flibraries%2Fcivicrm%2Fextern%2Furl.php%3Fu%3D17129%26qid%3D3715466&data=02%7C01%7C%7C86209d5b769d471e718608d805917435%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637265469567219829&sdata=2Ath9mUpKvFYL%2BMDmzmUAwdta3T%2B21RQ6I7xUtzM8JI%3D&reserved=0> specifically emphasizes our commitments to diversity. In short “We respect differences of opinion, beliefs, identities, and other characteristics that demonstrate that blind people are a diverse cross section of society…In promoting a diverse and growing organization, we expect integrity and honesty in our relationships with each other and openness to learning about and experiencing cultural diversity. We believe that these qualities are crucial to fostering social and intellectual maturity. Intellectual maturity also requires individual struggle with unfamiliar ideas.” This week, I have been struggling to comprehend the fear and anger that black members of my Federation family are experiencing. I do not, and never can, have the authentic lived experience that you have, but yet I am also completely outraged by the hate and injustice that fell upon George Floyd on Monday. I recognize there are many centuries of painful layers wrapped up in that moment. I recognize that George is neither the first nor the last in a chain of injustices that need to be addressed. I want you to know I stand with you in facing the injustice that persists against you because of the color of your skin. I want you to know that I love you and I struggle with not being able to fully know your pain and fear. I want you to know I am prepared to be guided by you as to how I can make a difference. I cannot say that I have not become desensitized in times past, but I can tell you I will never turn away again.

 

While our organization is dedicated to advancing the rights of blind people, we should not act as though race does not exist. As our chapters attempt to do business, as we urge our members to take up our priorities, we should recognize that thousands of our members are impacted by the painful realizations of this week. As a people’s movement, we cannot pretend that our people only have one characteristic. Now is the time to let each member know we love them and we recognize their hurt. Now is also the time for us to recognize, as individuals, that we carry implicit bias learned from the society around us, and to seek the training that will enhance our awareness. Now is the time to give love to our black members so that we might learn how we can do better in building the understanding that powers the organized blind movement.

 

Now is not the time for us to use our organizational communication tools to offer position statements about the activities playing out on the streets of our nation. it is easy to write messages and posts of solidarity without having a true understanding of the issues. It is easy to suggest that we share the concerns of our black members. The harder thing for us to do is to consciously listen and seek understanding while supporting others in their pain and frustration. The Federation has never been known for merely doing what is easy. The priority today is to ensure all of our black members know they are welcomed and loved in this movement. In fact, we should extend that same truth to any others who feel the real pain sweeping our nation. Please do not use organizational assets to enter the dialogue around race. That is not our purpose as an organization and we may unintentionally make it worse. We need to continue to coordinate messaging and to be guided by the wisdom of our diversity and inclusion committee. As leaders of our movement, we should also be conscious that our public posts may be misunderstood as representing the Federation. Our personal feelings and misunderstanding around the death of George Floyd, the protests sweeping our nation, and the underlying systemic discrimination may hurt and divide members of the organization. We cannot let that happen and we must be careful as leaders not to add to the pain our members are experiencing. As it relates to our public messaging, let us stay focused on the priorities of the organized blind movement. As it comes to our cherished friends, let our priority be to reach out personally to listen and offer our hands in support.

 

I have had the opportunity to gather virtually with some of our top black leaders—a group who will continue to guide my actions related to these issues. I asked them for wisdom and love in finding ways that I could guide our membership during this trying time in our nation. Their message was clear. Our movement is built on love and love always conquers hate. The Federation family needs to shine a light for the rest of the nation by continuing to demonstrate that the love, and solidarity, that we share with each other in this movement makes all the difference. They also noted that our organization has always valued civil disobedience and persistent pursuit of equality. They urged that we continue to pray for peace, justice, and equality. I could not agree more with these friends I have been blessed to learn from in our movement. Furthermore, I am thankful that we have a movement that provides us a meaningful opportunity to know people whose lived experience is so different from our own while sharing a common bond as blind people.

 

In the National Federation of the Blind we know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future. Blindness is the thing that brings us together but it is not the thing that makes us want to stay together. That, in a word, is love.  We have love in our movement and we strengthen it by giving it. We have some wisdom and we strengthen it by continuing to seek greater understanding. We need more of both love and wisdom at every opportunity. Let’s continue to share love, hope, and determination with each other so that together we transform our dreams into reality. One of those dreams still left to be transformed is that of a nation where we can join together regardless of our unique characteristics. That is a dream I am struggling to help my own children understand so they may do better than I in making it come true. I speak for all of our national board members when I say we sincerely believe that the love and togetherness demonstrated in our movement can go a long way in contributing to that dream. It can be hard to remember that in this moment when so many of us are hurting, angry, frustrated, and scared. Let us continue to support each other in the Federation family. Let us avoid the harmful language that will only serve to divide us in this time. Let us go forward together, love one another, and change the world for the better.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mark A. Riccobono, President

 

National Federation of the Blind

 

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Advocacy, Article

Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission releases this statement

June 02, 2020 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission

“Link to the original web version:

In light of the anti-racism protests taking place this week across the U.S, Canada and the world, Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission releases the following statement:

 

It is time for all Canadians to acknowledge that anti-Black racism is pervasive in Canada. In fact, the belief that there is little to no racism in Canada is in itself a barrier to addressing it.

 

As millions of people around the world unite to speak out against the killing of George Floyd, many are grappling with grief, anger and anxiety. The Commission extends its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Mr. Floyd, and to his entire community. We are immeasurably saddened that all those who endure the effects of anti-Black racism may be newly traumatized by this most recent senseless tragedy.

 

Anti-Black racism is not confined to the U.S. Many people of African descent in Canada feel threatened or unsafe every day because of the colour of their skin — some fear the police officers charged with protecting them.

 

We must question why Black people in Canada are more likely to be racially profiled whether by police when walking down the street, or store employees when shopping, or when being served in a restaurant. We must question why they are more likely to be the targets of hate speech and hate crimes, and are overrepresented in our criminal justice system.

 

The roots of anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination in Canada run deep. They are historically embedded in our society, in our culture, in our laws and in our attitudes. They are built into our institutions and perpetuate the social and economic disparities that exist in everything from education, to healthcare, to housing and employment.

 

Now is the time for all Canadians, but especially non-racialized Canadians, to listen, learn and reflect on how white privilege and systemic racism contribute to injustice and inequality in this country. We need to look inwards and challenge our biases, fears, assumptions and privilege. We need to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. We must recognize and respect the leadership of voices from the Black community, and learn from lived experiences of anti-Black racism.

 

Racist comments and racist acts, no matter how subtle, must no longer be ignored or tolerated in Canada. Even the most subtle forms of racism contribute to the conditions that permit overt racism and violence to occur. When we are complacent, we are complicit. When we are silent, we are complicit!

 

It is not enough to say that we embrace diversity and human rights as the foundation of our democracy. Racism violates human rights. Whether conscious or unconscious, subtle or overt. It diminishes human dignity and it erodes democracy.

 

It is time for change. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” That time is now.

 

– 30 –

 

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Advocacy, Article, Disability, Independence

Accessibility Or Luxury? It’s a Matter of Perspective. | mssinenomineblog

What if your luxury is my accessibility? What if the things you deem extras are essentials to me?
— Read on mssinenomineblog.wordpress.com/2019/07/09/accessibility-or-luxury-its-a-matter-of-perspective/

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Advocacy, Disability, Independence

Thoughts About Disability Discourse – A Thread that Got Too Long For Twitter | mssinenomineblog

I want to talk a bit about how disability issues get discussed and addressed but first I want to specify that I am a white disabled woman who became disabled – the reasons why those things matter will hopefully become clear.
— Read on mssinenomineblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/02/thoughts-about-disability-discourse-a-thread-that-got-too-long-for-twitter/

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Advocacy, Disability, Independence

Facing Facts and Asking For Help | mssinenomineblog

https://twitter.com/nickeagland/status/1083838571184701440 Charity is a dirty word in my world. My world meaning my particular life which includes but far exceeds my experience of being a disabled poor woman. Charity is demeaning, lost dignity, stolen power, abuse of authority, exploitative, harmful, it is the sickeningly pleased with itself happy face of systemic oppression and injustice. I…
— Read on mssinenomineblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/facing-facts-and-asking-for-help/

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Advocacy, Disability, Independence, Independent Mobility, Personal Responsibility

A wheelchair user’s guide to consent | CBC News

Gabrielle Peters, a wheelchair user in Vancouver, reminds people to ask before touching or pushing their chair.
— Read on www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/a-wheelchair-user-s-guide-to-consent-1.4982862

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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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