Monday, July 11, 2011

Changing What It Means to be Blind

In the Sixteenth Century John Bradford made a famous remark which has ever since been held up to us as a model of Christian humility and correct charity… Seeing a beggar in his rags creeping along a wall through a flash of lightning in a stormy night Bradford said: “But for the Grace of God, there go I.” Compassion was shown; pity was shown; charity was shown; humility was shown there was even an acknowledgement that the relative positions of the two could and might have been switched. Yet despite the compassion, despite the pity, despite the charity, despite the humility, how insufferably arrogant! There was still an unbridgeable gulf between Bradford and the beggar. They were not one but two. Whatever might have been, Bradford thought himself Bradford, and the beggar a beggar---one high, one low; one wise, the other misguided; one strong, the other week; one virtuous, the other deprived. We do not and cannot take the Bradford approach. Doctor Jacobus tenBroek, “Within the Grace of God” (July 1, 1956).

It is in an attempt to overcome the Bradford approach to blindness, and to reverse the everlasting stigma attached to blindness that every year I attend the National Federation of the Blind Conventions around the country. This year was no exception. July 1st through 8th, I was at the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando Florida, with three thousand other blind people. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) convention is a time for blind people from around the country to come together and talk about the latest issues, changes, improvements, and challenges faced by the blind in America and the world. It is a time for blind folks to meet with one another, to share our stories of discrimination, to learn from one another, and to organize new ways of overcoming the obstacles put in front of us by society, and people that are of the same mind as Mr. Bradford. The NFB convention is always a time to get reenergized about fighting for the rights of the blind in America, and a time for us all to see firsthand what the blind themselves are doing to change what it means to be blind. The beauty of the NFB is that it is not a sighted charity group speaking for the blind, but it is the blind speaking and fighting for ourselves.

I cannot help but get excited when I see the new car designed to be driven by a blind person independently, or when I hear about students my age fighting the Law School Admissions Council for accessibility to application materials, or when I hear about the court cases the NFB wins on behalf of the blind to eliminate discrimination against us, or when I hear about the exciting new laws that are passed through the United States Congress, such as the Pedestrian Safety Act of 2010, to protect the safety and security of the blind in America, or the new technology in development to improve accessibility to the blind, such as the new Orion Android Device in production by Levelstar. After seeing all the positive changes taking place, and all the changes that we will make in the future, and the knowledge that we are the ones making these incredible changes, I cannot help but swell with pride that I have the opportunity to interact with so many driven, intelligent, and brightest people in the greatest, the richest, and the most advanced country in the world.

Although during the year most of us get too wrapped up in our personal lives, the NFB convention is a time for us to come together and refuel our minds, bodies and souls with the NFB philosophy of blindness, and to go back home with new plans, ideas and strategies to change what it means to be blind. After all, Mr. John Bradford is not alone in his ideas of the beggar status of the blind, there are billions like him around the world, and that means we all still have lot of work before us, to change and reduce the stigma attached to blindness in the view of the larger society.

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