Combating Ignorance

Now that I have a vision-impaired child, complete with cane, I’ve developed a new appreciation for people’s ignorance.  I thought I had a fair idea, having taught college-level English, worked in customer service, and enjoyed the company of a wheelchair-bound brother-in-law, but I have come to realize that ignorance knows no bounds.

Misconception #1:  My Kid Has Super-Senses

A few weeks ago, I was summoned for jury duty and, lucky me, I got to be the alternate on a highly dull civil case.  While waiting for the other 12 jurors to deliberate (if you’re an alternate, you get to hang around until the verdict is read, just like everyone else–only you’re left to entertain yourself), I went in and spoke with the court’s administrative assistant.  I was explaining that my son is visually impaired (I was starting on my Trolley Run fundraising, and I’m all about shameless begging for a good cause, as my friend Phil used to say) and starting to explain how he navigates his environment when she eagerly piped up with “yeah, he finds you by smell!”  You will be glad to know that I surpressed my urge to fire off a quick “he’s a toddler, not a bloodhound” and instead explained that he has the same senses as everyone else; he just needs to learn to use them differently.

Misconception #2:  Blind People Don’t Contribute to Society

While reading an article on CNN.com last month, I encountered a commenter who stated:

The blind are kinda shut out of everything. They are blind, and the minority so things are done in their favor because it isnt smart or worth he effort or money to do it. Its not like blind people contribute to society. (sic)

Wow–and just wow.   The part that shocked me was where this commenter asserted that blind individuals don’t contribute to society.  Let’s see what we can do to dispell that myth, shall we?

When you think of famous blind people, chances are that Hellen Keller, Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles come to mind.  Here are some other contributing members of society who just happen to be blind or visually-impaired:

That’s not even a comprehensive list of famous people who are blind or visually impaired.  When you add in the B/VI people who are contributing to society and aren’t famous, the list is astronomical.

Misconception #3:  Braille is Obsolete

Ahh–another favorite of mine.  There are those who argue that we no longer need braille because b/vi people can use audiobooks and other text-to-speech technologies instead.  After all, it takes a lot of work to learn braille, and you have to have special tools to produce it.

Let’s look at this a minute.  Anyone can listen to an audiobook–heck, they make the morning commute and long car trips a lot more bearable.   Anyone can use text-to-speech technology–you don’t have to have a vision impairment to use that software.  It takes a lot of work to learn to read print, especially if you add in the need to learn cursive; we spend years teaching children to read in elementary school.  You have to have special tools to produce print, whether those tools be as simple as a pen and paper or as complex as the laptop computer I’m using to type this post.  Humn.  If audiobooks and similar technologies are an acceptable substitute for literacy for B/VI individuals, then why should this benefit be kept from us sighted folks?  That’s right:  why should anyone learn how to read?  Think of the time we would save in our classrooms!  We could massively overhaul the public education system!  All of those kids could just listen to talking books instead, or use text-to-speech technology–we wouldn’t have to take time to teach them to read and write.  The time and cost savings would be astounding!

Granted, some people would still have to learn to read and write, so they could produce those things for the rest of us, but maybe we could develop a technology around that, too.  Literacy could once again be a priviledge of the elite!  It would be something taught in those hoity-toity schools, like Latin.  Fabulous!!!

What?  You mean it’s not acceptable to let your kids grow up illiterate?  Having a book read to you isn’t the same as reading it yourself?  People need to be able to fill out job applications, file taxes, and a hundred other things that require the ability to read and write?  So, print isn’t obsolete?  Well, then, neither is braille.  Braille is the medium by which B/VI individuals access the gift of literacy.  You wouldn’t let your sighted child grow up illiterate.  Don’t you dare ask me to let my blind child grow up illiterate, kay?

Misconception #4:  My Kid is “Damaged Goods”

While I was doing some research for this post, a fellow mom told me about her grocery-store experience.  There was a woman in the grocery store who was speaking loudly on her cell phone.  Without stopping her conversation–or acknowledging Fellow Mom (FM) in any way–she bent down and patted FM’s wheelchair-bound son on the knee like “oh you poor thing” and continued on her way.  As FM put it, this woman treated her son like he was a “three-legged puppy”–he was something to be pitied.

I’ve noticed that people’s faces fall and they get very serious when I tell them that Peanut’s blind.  I understand where it comes from, to a degree:  people don’t know how to react when they find out that your kid has extra challenges, and condolences seem like the right way to go.  I won’t lie and tell you that I didn’t grieve when I found out that Peanut’s retinas were torn and disattached, and I won’t tell you that I don’t have days when I wish it didn’t have to be so hard for him.  That said, I’d challenge you to find a better kid:  Peanut’s absolutely awesome.  He’s smart; he’s kind; he’s caring; he helped me sweep up the driveway this evening, eagerly, even when I sat on the lawn to take a phone call; he’s addicted to chicken nuggets and is convinced that the polar bear at the zoo should have them, too.  He doesn’t see so well, sure, but that doesn’t define who he is. I am lucky to have Peanut as my son, and his vision is something to be dealt with, not mourned.

There is, still, the attitude that “special needs” means that you’re a “dud” or somehow not as good as everyone else.  Let’s put some perspective on that:  being “typically developing” isn’t all that and a bag of chips, either.  Just because you happen to be born without challenges doesn’t mean that you’re worth the molecules you’re made of.  To further the point, here are some typically developing kiddos you may have heard of:

One may also assume that many of the People of Wal-Mart, individuals getting misspelled tattoos featuring genetalia (see Ugliest Tattoos for examples), and members of congress were also typically-developing children who developed into “typical” adults.  So, don’t pity us because Peanut can’t see, and I’ll try not to pity you when your kiddo harms himself by tripping over the curb after having laced his piercings together.  Everyone has challenges.  Just because you, or your children, don’t have those challenges, doesn’t mean you’re automatically a success or somehow better; and just because my son and other children have those challenges doesn’ t mean that they won’t achieve amazing things.

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One Response to Combating Ignorance

  1. Pingback: USDE Publishes “Dear Colleague” Letter re: Braille Instruction | Peanut and Phouka's Adventures

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