Future Reflections Winter/Spring, Vol. 14 No. 1
Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the Spring, 1994, issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. Angelique (Angel) Turner received a 1993 National Federation of the Blind of Ohio Scholarship. She is also President of Ohio's Student Division.
I attended my very first Washington Seminar in February of this year. While there, I was asked to put my impressions of the event in writing. This seemed an easy request with which to comply. After all, I was experiencing a great many firsts. For example, I purchased my very first long white cane and began using it on the long trek from the hotel to Capitol Hill. Much to my surprise, however, when I sat down to write about my many new experiences, the words simply were not there. So many things had happened that I could not decide what to write about. But my writer's block was short-lived. It ended suddenly and dramatically with an incident that took place shortly after I returned from Washington.
During the weekend immediately following the seminar, I felt that some time for relaxation was definitely in order. Therefore, I got together with some friends to attend a student production of The Pines of Rome, and I decided to take my newly purchased NFB white cane along for the trip. Since I am a new cane user, this was not an easy decision to make, but my friends supported me in my endeavors to explore my blindness more fully and thought the cane was "cool." However, as we started to leave my room, one young woman, who had evidently missed the whole point of the conversation leading up to the decision to take my cane, innocently commented, "You're not going to carry that thing around with you, are you?"
I will omit the initial remark that popped into my head, for I did not say it to her. However, I feel certain that it was written all over my face. After a brief recovery, I innocently replied, "Sure. Why not?" And then with cane in hand and a smile painted brightly on my face, I walked out the door to enjoy the show.
That incident combined with others that had occurred during the Washington Seminar and on the trip home made me think more and more about the societal attitudes and stereotypes that many people in the blind community have incorporated into their own thinking. Many blind people with some residual sight hinder their well-being and progress by rejecting the alternative techniques of blindness because of the negative attitudes and stereotypes associated with being blind. For example, a person who fears that a cane makes him or her look blind is unlikely to use it. If one feels that Braille makes one look blind, one will not be eager to learn or use it. Our attitudes about blindness begin to take shape when we are very young. I can remember hating the coke-bottle glasses I owned when I was six because everyone called me "four-eyes" and "blind bat," etc. I did not have blind adults to serve as role models for me. For that matter, there was no one to teach me that it was okay to be blind. In retrospect I remember how many kids came to school damning their parents because of the brace-face brand seared into their little egos. These were usually the kids that picked on the special ed kids and others like me. Perhaps it is well for all to recognize that every child gets called names along the way.
But many parents and professionals in the field of work with the blind keep the negative attitudes and damning stereotypes alive. We in the blind community know all too well the harmful effects of sight-saving classes with their emphasis on audio tapes and their discouragement of independent travel. Yet to many parents and professionals the fact that a blind child has to be taken to the bathroom or have her food brought to her or that she must cling to the corridor wall for direction is not particularly worrying, as long as she doesn't have to use a cane. It doesn't seem to matter that, even with large print a half inch from his nose, a bright college student can read only ten print words a minute or that he has to stay up all hours of the night reviewing five or six lecture tapes simply to prepare the notes for the course, let alone study for the exam he has the next day. And he thinks it is worth all of that not to look blind.
I am now struggling in college as a result of the so-called sight-saving class and attitudes I was subjected to when I was a child. I am still dealing with my blindness in all senses of the word, and, as a new state student chapter president, I find it difficult to give guidance to others when I am still searching for answers. While at the Washington Seminar, however, I received a great deal of support from other students and leaders in my Federation family to provide me with a gentle nudge or a swift kick to keep me going in the right direction. I sincerely hope that the students of today's NFB will aim more and more to set positive examples for the youth that are fighting society's stereotypes. I will certainly try.