Author: Isaac Beavers, Regional Director, Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind

            I am Blind…

            I wonder what images this statement conjured in your mind. Did you see a disheveled man sitting on a street corner playing guitar near an open case?  Did an image of Mr. Magoo squeezing hemorrhoid cream onto a toothbrush flash before your mind’s eye? Did you think about Matthew Murdock, cane and briefcase in hand, arriving late to a court room, after a night of fighting bad guys as the Daredevil? Did you think of Stevie Wonder, David Patterson or Ronnie Millsap?

            I am blind and I am as different from any of the examples above as Mr. Magoo is different from Daredevil.  I have been blind since birth and nearly half of my 45 years has been spent trying to help other people who are blind achieve their goals. The activities we engage in to obtain each person's goals may be different; however, the desired result can be summed up in one word: independence.  Independence is simply the ability to do what everyone else can do, even if it has to be done differently. For example, I have never driven to work, but I come to work every day.

            You may think that this is stated too simply. I would have agreed with you in 1997 when I became the Case Manager for the Blind at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB)’s Huntsville Regional Center. I just wanted to help my fellow blind brethren and make a nice salary while doing it. I was living the blind dream, which happens to be the same as the American dream: I had a great job doing something I enjoyed, while providing for my family. This was truly a blessing considering that 75% of people who were blind were not in the workforce.  In my experience, the problem with being blind was not being able to see, so my early professional efforts were focused on overcoming the “can’t see” problem. The solution was blindness skills development through the teaching of tools and techniques. Tools included magnifiers, large print material, Braille, the white cane, talking computers and other talking devices. Techniques included labeling items, cooking without looking, and organizational skills, such as folding money. Mastering blindness skills is essential to independence, but I began to notice that skills mastery did not often result in a person becoming employed.  I had people in my caseload who graduated at the tops of their classes and were so proficient at blindness skills that they taught other blind people, but they still could not obtain employment.

            In March of 2013 the National Industries for the Blind released survey results that revealed that employers are reluctant to hire people who are blind. Some of the findings include 54% of employers believing that they did not have any jobs a blind person could perform, 34% believing that blind workers would be more likely to have an accident, 42% believing a blind person would need assistance to perform their job duties, and 45% believing that providing workplace accommodations would be expensive.

            October is World Blindness Awareness Month. The purpose of the month is to help people understand the realities of living without sight. Close your eye for a moment. Can you imagine a reality that defies the notion that hard work pays? Sometimes the “can’t see” problem isn’t limited to those who are blind, so I want to challenge you to look and actually see.

            I am Blind…