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Securing Our Future In An Uncertain Brave New World

February 5, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker


I admit that I am very confused about all the proposals for Social Security reform. I blame this partly on both the conservatives and the liberals, both sides putting the best spin on their proposals. I think choice is always better than lack of choice. I thus think partial private investment of Social Security tax funds is a very good idea. I am concerned about how this might hurt those of us who are blind or otherwise disabled. I just wish I could find some serious, bipartisan facts on the situation that I could trust.


Frankly, the way I see the world moving in recent years, I think Social

Security and most other government programs will ultimately go away. I

don’t think this is avoidable. Globalization is spreading the wealth around the world rather than confining it all inside America and other advanced, highly developed democratic nations. It also feels like the focus is constantly on compression and downsizing, due to a lack of overall resources to support an ever increasing world population. If we’re seen as being unproductive in today’s business and social climate, then I am nervous and worried about our future. Those like Dr. Peter Singer who are self-proclaimed bioethicists and utilitarians are going to enjoy more and more support as these changes continue to affect a large portion of the population that doesn’t want to be burdened with the needs of the so-called unproductive, who drain precious resources while supposedly living lives that are “not worth living”. I think we’re just going to have to find ways to change with the times. That means finding ways to become less dependent on big government programs like Social Security. Right now, we must focus the bulk of our efforts on decreasing our huge unemployment rate. We must do as much as we can now, while we still have the chance, to become entrenched in mainstream society. This means we must continue to advocate for our needs and rights, but do so in ways that conservatives can understand and be persuaded to help. I think that means we must confine ourselves to asking for concessions and reasonable accomodations that will improve our ability to be productive, hoping that, along the way, we will be able to maintain and improve our standard of living. We must think about constructive ways to make this happen.


Improve social attitudes by example, without preaching. Let’s really pick our battles carefully in this area. Obviously, we must continue to fight, in the strongest possible terms and with all means necessary, blatant discrimination such as denial of public access for users of guide dogs and government sponsored abduction of children from blind parents. I do think we must avoid advocacy for political correctness, publicly fighting against every misrepresentation of blindness in the media and elsewhere. I think it is fine to comment on it inside the blind community and to find ways to change these issues by example, but I wouldn’t want to see precious legal resources and political capital wasted in these areas.


Outside the area of social attitudes, I’d like to see us focus on ways to gain more access to the world around us and to secure independent means of transportation. Focusing on these two areas of advocacy represents our only real hope for a bright future.


On accessibility, we must discover and absolutely insist on built in accessibility at the time of the design and development of all new technology products and services. For existing products, we must do our best to get the manufacturers to make changes that improve our overall accessibility. In conjunction with advocating more accessibility by the mainstream technology industry, we must also work to make our own, independent accessibility as much as possible. Projects such as the NFB Kurzweil Reader are intended to help move us in this direction. When it comes to employment of blind people who are ready to work, accessibility is life!


Transportation is another critical area! We must focus, in the short and medium term, on insisting on the availability of meaningful public

transportation and paratransit services in cities. There are literally tens of millions of people, including the increasing elderly population, who are unable to drive automobiles. We must work with these representative groups, forge alliances with individuals and organizations with compatible interests and needs, helping them and us gain better transportation

options. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that there’s no sense spending precious resources doing this in rural areas. Those of us who need independent transportation simply need to live in cities where those resources can be expected to be available. Of course, the long term solution for us and for millions of others will be the development of an automobile like KITT (of Knight Rider fame) that is able to drive itself. This kind of technology is now being covered in The Road To Driving Blind in Voice of the Nation’s Blind, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind.


Once we have significantly improved accessibility and transportation issues, along with living our lives as positive examples to improve attitudes about blindness in the rest of society, we the blind will be pretty much fully accepted in society and thus considered to be productive people worth keeping around. We could educate our children almost completely in the mainstream. Learning the alternative techniques of blindness in addition to our mainstream educations really would be all that is necessary to get along in the world around us. We could and should work toward becoming a powerful, unstoppable minority force in our nation!


Since we currently endure a 75 percent unemployment rate, we must retain and expand our employment opportunities through our proactive advocacy for accessibility and independent transportation options, while making sure our unemployed blind brothers and sisters don’t starve to death in the process. It is important that we understand that it is no longer just a matter of continuous improvement. The perception in the blind community is that our lives can’t get worse, but only better. That is increasingly false. We could be in real danger if we aren’t vigilant! We must thus take steps to retain social aid programs while simultaneously increasing our employment and business ownership rates. This is a dawnting task. We must be up to this challenge. Our very lives depend on getting the job done! It will require brainstorming and serious participation on the part of all sectors of the blind community. As always, comment and discussion are always encouraged and welcome here.

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