Commentary: What I Want Others to Understand During Blindness Awareness Month
October is blindness awareness month, a celebration dedicated to understanding the realities of living without sight. We could say that the main focus of this month is to open the eyes to the general public about what it is like to live without being able to see. This month is also disability employment awareness month, and it is intended to educate the public, particularly employers, about the many talents workers with disabilities bring to the job.
Ever since I was in college, I have been a part of these celebrations, mostly by participating in blindness and disability awareness panels. Just yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking to graduate students at DePaul University about how assistive technology has helped me, as well as other challenges I have encountered as someone who is blind. The great questions I got from the students made me think about some of the things I wish more people understood about blindness, and these are my top three:
- Although I appreciate help from sighted people, sometimes it can be more of a hindrance.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it when someone comes up to me (particularly if I look lost or confused) and asks me if I would like assistance. If I happen to need help, I will gladly accept. However, please do not feel offended or insist if I decline. Often, I have had people who – in an attempt to help me – give me directions or begin guiding me even after I tell them I’m fine, and this unfortunately might make me become lost or confused.
- People who are blind are not “inspirational” simply because we are living our lives.
I won’t deny that those of us with vision loss often have to overcome challenges others do not have to think about. Navigating busy streets and not being able to instantly read things like restaurant menus are just a few of those obstacles we encounter in our daily lives. Without a doubt, these challenges can be scary and frustrating. Still, if you see someone who is blind out and about, chances are that he or she has had special training and practice to learn how to be independent without sight. If you want to compliment us, please do not focus on our blindness or how hard it must be to live without sight. Like anyone else, we like to hear compliments on more interesting things, such as what we’re wearing or any other characteristic unrelated to our disability.
- A high unemployment rate continues to be a problem in 2016.
If laws like the ADA forbid discrimination, then why is it that around 70 percent of people with vision loss are unemployed in the United States? Personally, I believe it is because of the negative attitudes and stereotypes employers still have about people with vision loss. The reason is simple: they have never hired someone who is blind, and are unwilling to give us a chance. Also, they are not aware about the various adaptive tools and techniques available that can help us on the job. I hope that one day more employers will give people with disabilities the chance to show them their talents.
What other things would you like people to understand about blindness? Stay tuned to Sandy’s View, where we will continue sharing information about blindness and disability and employment awareness month all throughout October.
Sandy Murillo works at The Chicago Lighthouse, an organization serving the blind and visually impaired. She is the author of Sandy’s View, a bi-weekly Lighthouse blog about blindness and low vision. The blog covers topics of interest to those living with blindness and vision impairments. Being a blind journalist and blogger herself, Sandy shares her unique perspective about ways to live and cope with vision loss.