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disABILITY

October 6, 2007

disABILITY: 'Disabled' doesn't mean 'unskilled'

Did you know that blindness is the third-most feared thing in this country after AIDS and cancer, and keeps employment of the visually impaired limited to 26 percent of those ages 21 to 64?

I don't know about you, but I find that really appalling. It doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be that way at all.

Would you say that babies are at a devastating disadvantage because they can't talk or because they have little muscular and motor control? Hopefully you realize that it's only a temporary situation. As they grow, they learn and hone their skills. Sooner or later you have a child, and then an adult, who is capable and talented in so many ways that weren't readily apparent from the start.

Let me just tell you, people who go blind have the capacity to learn, function independently and have some pretty impressive talents, too. And, it's not always readily apparent right from the start either. People develop and become adept at things over time and with practice. But it can't happen if they are prevented from having the chance to challenge themselves with new things and gain confidence through adequate exposure.

The problem is that our culture is so convinced that this is a visual world. At best, there's a general fear that anyone without sight is inevitably in danger of hurting themselves, or at worst blind people are written off as completely out of luck.

But wouldn't you say that it is pretty hard to succeed when nobody wants to give you a chance to get experience, or perhaps prove the skills you possess already? How does one get his foot in the door when the door is bolted shut on him?

There are many blind people out there with a whole repertoire of skills, adaptive technologies and personal modifications, all of which help them achieve equivalent work standards as their sighted counterparts. But because the people hiring can't imagine being blindfolded for a day and being able to handle themselves, they automatically decide that there isn't any way that anyone else would be able to have the capacity to do it either.

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