I just read an article entitled Being Blind For A Day! posted today on PRNewswire regarding an event called “Kindness Beats Blindness”. I found it quite disturbing and upsetting as I learned that 496 more children are going to be taught the wrong things about blindness!

On Thursday, January 27, 496 middle school children will simulate blindness in a way that exemplifies thousands of years of misconceptions all in a single day. Half the children will wear blindfolds while the other half will act as “seeing eye kids” presumably to guide the “blind” children. The story emphasizes all the negative misconceptions about blindness as though they are truths. One of the children interviewed for this article tells us that he gets a “beautiful, indescribable feeling” from helping the needy. Sadly, unless he is made aware of the truth, this child may become a barrier to our progress in his adulthood.

Campaigns such as this should be conducted in a way that improves society’s attitudes about blindness and breaks down the negative misconceptions. If I were advising the planners of “Kindness Beats Blindness”, I would give them the following advice:

  • Cut out the “seeing eye kids”! They feed in to the misconception that the blind are completely helpless and dependent upon the sighted.
  • Invite confident, competent blind people from the community to work with the children, demonstrating how the alternative techniques of blindness (assistive technology, Braille, orientation and mobility skills) enable them to participate in society. Provide hands on examples of daily living skills such as cooking and preparing simple meals. Have the children walk around the school grounds with blind buddies using the long white cane. Show the children how assistive technologies such as Braille displays and screen readers enable blind people to communicate. Play a descriptive video.
  • Engage the children in their normal school activities while blind mentors show them how to successfully complete them as a blind person.

By focusing almost exclusively on the negative characteristics of blindness, The planners of this event have missed the opportunity to make life better for blind people everywhere. The stated goal of this campaign is to raise money for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, an organization working to implement prevention, treatment and cure of eye diseases. Some may feel that the only way to successfully raise funds for these medical organizations is to emphasize the negative, pitiful aspects of blindness. These negative campaigns are carried out solely at our expense. We are not inherently helpless or “needy” based on our physical lack of eye sight. Our 75 percent unemployment rate and overall poor socioeconomic status have nothing to do with blindness. They do have everything to do with the artificially imposed consequences of inaccessibility, lack of transportation options and negative social attitudes regarding our blindness.

It is important to note that Sovereign Bank, the primary sponsor of “Kindness Beats Blindness”, provides reasonable accomodations to its blind customers through such features as an accessible web site, automated telephone banking and talking ATM’s. We applaud all businesses that do the right thing by providing equal accessibility of their products and services to the blind.

This is yet another call to participation. What can we do to insure that blindness related fund raising campaigns avoid damaging the blind community? How can we convince event planners to emphasize the positive rather than the negative?