by Reverend Clyde Jackson
Perceptions of the Blind and Visually Impaired
The blind are stereotyped in a number of ways. On one extreme, they can be viewed as totally dependent, or completely incompetent, or burdensome to family members, or vulnerable, or persons to be pitied.
Despite these traditional perceptions, the condition of blindness comes in varying degrees, ranging from legally blind to totally blind. Regardless of the extent of blindness, it should in no way be considered a death sentence.
I'm sure we have all encountered sighted individuals that freeze, stutter, and appear to be wondering, "What in the world am I supposed to do with this blind person?" I generally break the ice by gently explaining to them the proper way to lead a visually disabled person. Although I cannot see the person's reaction to my response, I can certainly sense that my actions are encouraging. On the opposite end of the spectrum are individuals who expect the visually impaired to function as if they had 20/20 vision. Again, I'm sure we have all interacted with sighted persons that provide directions by pointing, or saying, "It's over there." I generally respond by asking for further assistance, which leads to another lesson in how to properly assist the visually impaired. It is a lesson worth teaching and, when I encounter those same individuals again, I usually don't have to worry about obtaining assistance from them.
We are constantly educating those around us concerning blindness. We are not to be cast aside and ignored, and we are capable of doing most things that sighted individuals can do. We do, however, have some limitations, and we need to be treated accordingly.
BVA stresses independence through training. One annual event that connects BVA with both organizations of and for the blind, as well as with sighted individuals, is White Cane Day. On this particular day, members of the general public visit tables in local VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics set up by our regional groups and VIST Coordinators. These visitors obtain information regarding the condition of blindness itself, diseases of the eye, how to lead the blind, and the services that BVA has offered to veterans throughout its 68-year history.
There is an old saying that speaks volumes: "Information is power." When we empower others with knowledge, we are actually helping ourselves. This is still one more way in which we can remain true to our own motto, "Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans." We actually help ourselves when we reach out to others everywhere with our own insights, knowledge, and resources.