Why Do We Fear the Blind?
By ROSEMARY MAHONEYJAN
BRISTOL, R.I. — A FEW years ago, when I mentioned to a woman I met at a party that I was teaching in a school for the blind, she seemed confused. “Can I just ask you one question?” she said. “How do you talk to your students?”
I explained that the students were blind, not deaf. Raising the palms of her hands at me, as if to stem further misunderstanding, she said: “Yes, I know they’re not deaf. But what I really mean is, how do you actually talk to them?”
I knew, because I had been asked this question before by reasonably intelligent people, that the woman didn’t know exactly what she meant. All she knew was that in her mind there existed a substantial intellectual barrier between the blind and the sighted. The blind could hear, yes. But could they properly understand?
Throughout history and across cultures the blind have been traduced by a host of mythologies such as this. They have variously been perceived as pitiable idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or as mystics possessed of supernatural powers.
One of the most persistent misconceptions about blindness is that it is a curse from God for misdeeds perpetrated in a past life, which cloaks the blind person in spiritual darkness and makes him not just dangerous but evil.
A majority of my blind students at the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs in Trivandrum, India, a branch of Braille Without Borders, came from the developing world: Madagascar, Colombia, Tibet, Liberia, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal and India.
One of my students, the 27-year-old Sahr, lost most of his eyesight to measles when he was a child. (Like many children in rural West Africa, Sahr had not been vaccinated.) The residents of Sahr’s village were certain that his blindness — surely the result of witchcraft or immoral actions on his family’s part — would adversely affect the entire village. They surrounded his house and shouted threats and abuse. They confiscated a considerable portion of his parents’ land. Eventually, the elders decreed that Sahr’s father must take the child out to the bush, “where the demons live,” and abandon him there. The parents refused and fled the village with their son.
Many of my students had similar experiences. Marco’s parents, devout Colombian Catholics, begged a priest to say a Mass so that their blind infant son would die before his existence brought shame and hardship on their household. The villagers in Kyile’s remote Tibetan village insisted that she, her two blind brothers and their blind father should all just commit suicide because they were nothing but a burden to the sighted members of the family. When, as a child in Sierra Leone, James began to see objects upside down because of an ocular disease, the villagers were certain that he was possessed by demons.
In these places, schools for blind children were deemed a preposterous waste of resources and effort. Teachers in regular schools refused to educate them. Sighted children ridiculed them, tricked them, spat at them and threw stones at them. And when they reached working age, no one would hire them.
During a visit to the Braille Without Borders training center in Tibet, I met blind children who had been beaten, told they were idiots, locked in rooms for years on end and abandoned by their parents. These stories, which would have been commonplace in the Dark Ages, took place in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. They are taking place now.
Nine out of 10 blind children in the developing world still have no access to education, many for no other reason than that they are blind.
The United States has one of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the world, and yet blindness is still among the most feared physical afflictions. Even in this country, the blind are perceived as a people apart.
Aversion toward the blind exists for the same reason that most prejudices exist: lack of knowledge. Ignorance is a powerful generator of fear. And fear slides easily into aggression and contempt.
Anyone who has not spent more than five minutes with a blind person might be forgiven for believing — like the woman I met at the party — that there is an unbridgeable gap between us and them.
For most of us, sight is the primary way we interpret the world. How can we even begin to conceive of a meaningful connection with a person who cannot see?
Before I began living and working among blind people, I, too, wondered this. Whenever I saw a blind person on the street I would stare, transfixed, hoping, out of a vague and visceral discomfort, that I wouldn’t have to engage with him.
In his 1930 book “The World of the Blind,” Pierre Villey, a blind French professor of literature, summarized the lurid carnival of prejudices and superstitions about the blind that were passed down the centuries. “The sighted person judges the blind not for what they are but by the fear blindness inspires. … The revolt of his sensibility in the face of ‘the most atrocious of maladies’ fills a sighted person with prejudice and gives rise to a thousand legends.”
The blind author Georgina Kleege, a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, more tersely wrote, “The blind are either supernatural or subhuman, alien or animal.”
WE take our eyesight so much for granted, cling to it so slavishly and are so overwhelmed by its superficial data, that even the most brilliant sighted person can take a stupidly long time to recognize the obvious: There is usually a perfectly healthy, active and normal human mind behind that pair of unseeing eyes.
Christopher Hitchens called blindness “one of the oldest and most tragic disorders known to man.” How horribly excluded and bereft we would feel to lose the world and the way of life that sight brings us.
Blindness can happen to any one of us. Myself, I used to be certain I’d rather die than be blind; I could not imagine how I would have the strength to go on in the face of such a loss.
And yet people do.
In 1749, the French philosopher Denis Diderot published an essay, “Letter on the Blind for the Benefit of Those Who See,” in which he described a visit he and a friend made to the house of a blind man, the son of a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. The blind man was married, had a son, had many acquaintances, was versed in chemistry and botany, could read and write with an alphabet of raised type and made his living distilling liqueurs. Diderot wrote with wonder of the man’s “good solid sense,” of his tidiness, of his “surprising memory for sounds” and voices, of his ability to tell the weight of any object and the capacity of any vessel just by holding them in his hands, of his ability to dismantle and reassemble small machines, of his musical acuity and of his extreme sensitivity to atmospheric change.
The blind man, perhaps weary of being interrogated by Diderot and his friend as if he were a circus animal, eventually asked them a question of his own. “I perceive, gentlemen, that you are not blind. You are astonished at what I do, and why not as much at my speaking?”
More than any of his sensory skills, it was the blind man’s self-esteem that surprised Diderot most.
“This blind man,” he wrote, “values himself as much as, and perhaps more than, we who see.”
I’ve learned from my blind friends and colleagues that blindness doesn’t have to remain tragic. For those who can adapt to it, blindness becomes a path to an alternative and equally rich way of living.
One of the many misconceptions about the blind is that they have greater hearing, sense of smell and sense of touch than sighted people. This is not strictly true. Their blindness simply forces them to recognize gifts they always had but had heretofore largely ignored.
A few years ago, I allowed myself to be blindfolded and led through the streets of Lhasa by two blind Tibetan teenage girls, students at Braille Without Borders. The girls had not grown up in the city, and yet they traversed it with ease, without stumbling or getting lost. They had a specific destination in mind, and each time they announced, “Now we turn left” or “Now we turn right,” I was compelled to ask them how they knew this. Their answers startled me, chiefly because the clues they were following — the sound of many televisions in an electronics shop, the smell of leather in a shoe shop, the feel of cobblestones suddenly underfoot — though out in the open for anyone to perceive, were virtually hidden from me.
For the first time in my life, I realized how little notice I paid to sounds, to smells, indeed to the entire world that lay beyond my ability to see.
The French writer Jacques Lusseyran, who lost his sight at the age of 8, understood that those of us who have sight are, in some ways, deprived by it. “In return for all the benefits that sight brings we are forced to give up others whose existence we don’t even suspect.”
I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness. There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability and daring. The blind are no more or less otherworldly, stupid, evil, gloomy, pitiable or deceitful than the rest of us. It is only our ignorance that has cloaked them in these ridiculous garments.
When Helen Keller wrote, “It is more difficult to teach ignorance to think than to teach an intelligent blind man to see the grandeur of Niagara,” she was speaking, obviously, of the uplifting and equalizing value of knowledge.
Many of us are taught to make sure our sites can be used via keyboard. Why is that, and what is it like in practice? Chris Ashton did an experiment to find out.
— Read on www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/07/web-with-just-a-keyboard/
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
‘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
Goodbye Greyhound? The thread stitching together Canada’s North wears thin.
Yvette Brend CBC News
Posted: Sep 01, 2017
Greyhound plans to continue freight delivery in northern B.C., even if passenger service ends.
Andrew Kurjata CBC News Posted: Sep 01, 2017
Disability and the job churn
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
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
are classified as independent contractors and, as such, restaurants hiring them need not contribute to their CPP or EI.
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.
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.
Full Disclosure: Last year I was appointed to the Active Transportation Advisory Council for the City of Vancouver. I had this post in my draft file and never posted it. I am sharing it now after reading the article about the poorly considered and executed bike lane design in Victoria, BC. I can no longer…
— Read on mssinenomineblog.wordpress.com/2018/07/08/i-am-disabled-bike-lanes-are-not-the-problem-ableism-is/
The City of Victoria and B.C. Transit have put the lives of blind pedestrians at risk by moving bus stops away from the curb to accommodate bike lanes, claims the Canadian Federation of the Blind.. . .
— Read on www.timescolonist.com/news/local/bike-lane-bus-stops-dangerous-for-blind-suit-1.23359666