by Kevin Burton
I’ve heard some speeches, I’ve made some speeches. In the end, I am speechless.
For years I was a self-styled superhero, defending the blind from the ignorant and the arrogant. I had logic on my side. I had passion.
But that metaphorical cape I wore on the job, I took it to a metaphorical secondhand store a while back; it’s gone now. The cape still fit, but over time I came to realize it was invisible and so for the most part, was I.
Now this will never be universal. You can strike a blow here and there. But largely the sighted world will not, indeed can not, hear what the blind have to say about blindness.
It’s like that time in Alaska when I held a door open for a German tourist. “Danka,” she said. I opened my mouth to reply and realized in the moment that I had no words that would get my message through, no words that could get the job done.
The sighted world doesn’t speak my language, or feel the need to acknowledge it, let alone learn it.
Here are words that resonated when I read them last week:
“For years now I’ve been trying to convince people the world over that blindness is really nothing more than any other embodied thing like lefthandedness or shoe size,” wrote Stephen Kuusisto on his “Planet of the Blind” blog on WordPress.
“The obstacles to succeeding are many. The chief one is panic. People with sight imagine blindness to be a vast helplessness,” Kuusisto wrote.
It’s possible Kuusisto still has his cape. I hope so.
“Sighted people think seeing is more than believing, they imagine it’s thought itself,” wrote Kuusisto who is a guide dog user. “When someone asks if the dog does my thinking, they’re convinced that without sight I can’t possibly process the world.”
“They think the blind live in a mineral blank. Not seeing is thought to be like living inside a stone,” Kuusisto wrote.
I could go on forever in this vein, relaying the experiences of hundreds of blind people I have known in school, sports and work settings.
But since I have spent some time in the news business, I want to shift the subject slightly. I want to talk about how the story of the blind is told on a daily basis in journalism.
I hope to spend some time here today and in future posts.
The news people I have known weren’t biased in the sense of having some agenda to push. But we all have a backdoor kind of bias in terms of determining just what is and isn’t news.
I have a lot of Google alerts with the word “blind” in it. So most of what is written that covers blindness in some way, crosses my inbox.
As a trained newsman I have a sense of what is and isn’t news. As a blind man I have a sense of what is or is not remarkable about blindness, blind people and the things we do.
Keep in mind everything Kuusisto said and that I say about blind people being essentially the same as and only superficially different from the rest of the population, and apply that to news coverage.
I will cite some news articles about blind people, you tell me if they qualify as news or not. It’s not always a clear cut call. I’d love to have some feedback from both blind and sighted readers on this.
From the Toronto Sun, “Legally blind Leafs fan sees Friday’s game with eSight4 glasses.”
This first example seems legit, handled well by reporter Liz Braun.
Eric MacDonald, 78, began losing his vision 12 years ago. Since then he has given up hunting and followed his favorite hockey team via radio.
“Now, thanks to We Are Young, a non-profit in Nova Scotia that grants wishes to seniors, and eSight vision enhancing eyeware, MacDonald got to Toronto to see the Leafs at Scotiabank Arena,” Braun wrote.
The article explains the technology, talks about the non-profit and best of all, presents the man as a man, who happens to be legally blind.
“Asked about using the eSight4 unit, MacDonald said, “The biggest thing with the glasses is being able to see my wife. And I guess I’d better say my grandchildren too. I better put in a plug for them,” he said. laughing. “I’m really lucky.”
From WLDS radio Jacksonville, Illinois, comes a story about the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired hosting the Regional Goalball championships this weekend.
This story briefly explains the history of goalball and how to play it. Here’s a quote from ISVI athletic director Ken Mansell:
“Watch a video of a game and you’ll see how tremendous they are. You would swear with their constant focus and concentration that all the athletes have 20-20 eyesight because they can find that ball.”
Legit news story, but I’m not wild about that quote, as it equates vision with competence. I’ve certainly heard worse though. What do you think?
We’ll look at more stories in days to come.
As I once told some one I grew up with, no matter how hard we try, when we report or tell a story it will automatically carry something of our bias. We can try all we like to be objective but our own thoughts and judgments will creep into the telling. As a blind person I resent a statement that equates sight with competence. However, I know that to those who have seen all their lives, that’s exactly what they believe. They cannot make that leap into understanding that other senses can give you tons of information and that you can learn to work with that and get along just fine. I do all I can to help people to understand this, but I constantly find that after years of knowing some one they still hold some strange notions about me because I am blind. Example, some one I have known for several years asked me one day if we have people at work who walk us to the break room. I was astounded. Obviously she’d never ask a sighted person such a thing, so what was it that caused her to think this might be necessary for me and others like me? I thought about this and realized that when we go to church together, I walk with her to and from the car. It’s just easier that way because I tend to weave a bit from side to side as I walk alone and this makes it tricky for some one to walk beside me without constantly bumping me over to my lane so-to-speak. Also, if I walk into church on my own and head to my area, people sort of get nervous as I approach. They don’t know if I know they are there or if I know where my seat is. I should do this regularly anyway, so they might eventually get the idea, but making others uncomfortable makes me uncomfortable, so I don’t usually walk in alone. I realize now, that doing these things because it was easier also helps to sustain the ideas that others have about not being able to see. It’s a constant battle.
Tracy Duffy firstname.lastname@example.org
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