Of Parchesi and Blindness

Do you remember playing "Parchesi"?

You’d roll the dice and move your wooden nubbin up a row of squares until you jumped a row and arrived at another identical and deterministic block of squares.

Parchesi, like most board games was originally invented as a soft way to kill time.

Basically it was a pastime for palace courtesans who had to wait around until the King came home.

It’s what you played while you wondered if your head would be cut off at sundown.

Lately the news has been filled with stories about the decision by a Federal Appeals court in favor of a lawsuit calling for the U.S. Treasury to issue "blind friendly" money.

I think any reasonable person would agree that having currency that the blind can identify is a good idea. Heck, those Europeans (you know, those people who make better hair care products and automobiles) have been issuing "blind friendly" money for years.

The Parchesi game starts when one group of blindness advocates disagrees with another group.

The lawsuit calling for accessible money was filed by the American Council of the Blind, a national blindness advocacy organization located in Washington, DC.

The ACB is not the only organization that advocates for blind people. There are many other groups.

One of those groups is known as the National Federation of the
Blind. Like the ACB they’re headquartered in the Washington, DC
area—they have impressive facilities in Baltimore.

I don’t speak for either of these organizations though I have links to their respective websites on this blog.

Briefly: the NFB believes that blind people know how to fold their
money into discernible shapes and that fighting for more easily
detectable bills is a red herring. The argument is sound: there are a
gazillion problems that blind people face in terms of unemployment, the
cost of assistive technologies, lousy mass transportation, inaccessible
information technology, corporate and public hubris—you name it—the
blind have plenty of trouble.

I agree that the blind have plenty of trouble.

I’m thrilled that the National Federation of the Blind filed a
lawsuit of their own against Target because "Tar Jay" refused to make
their online shopping website accessible for the blind. Go NFB!

The inaccessibility of websites and information technologies affects
me every single day. As a university professor I have tons of trouble
getting information from the library or even posting my grades online
because IT systems are not designed with screen reading software in
mind. This is a real headache. I have to ask others to help me perform
tasks that I would prefer to do by myself.

But the game of Parchesi starts when the NFB can’t find common cause
with the ACB around the basic right of Americans to have and hold their
own money without the assistance of sighted people.

The NFB argues that blind people don’t need this accommodation and
that frankly, even fighting "for" this accommodation makes the blind
look helpless in the eyes of the general public.

This rationale for opposing a legal action that calls for accessible
money is in my view a kind of "Parchesi" game—it’s an abject and nearly
hopeless position.

Yes, the blind can learn how to fold their paper bills into origami
and this is a learnable skill. But you still have to know a trustworthy
sighted person at the bank or credit union who will help you identify
your filthy lucre in the first place. This business of needing a
sighted person is the issue.

When I vote I need a sighted person to help me because the
electronic voting machines that are supposed to be accessible have
never worked in any polling place I’ve ever voted at.

Do I look helpless when I ask a gray haired lady to help me cast my vote?

I have no idea.

Some might say: "Look at that blind guy with the Chris Dodd button
and the fantastically beautiful guide dog stepping out together into
the public and casting a vote. What an independent and outgoing man! By

Some might say: "Look at that sad blind man who needs help casting
his vote. And jeez, it’s sad that he needs a cane or a dog to help him.
I’d rather be dead than be in his shoes."

Plenty of people who do not currently have a disability think that
having one is a monumental tragedy. When TV programs like "Dateline"
feature a blind person they will often say: "He was "Struck down" by

That old Victorian language still haunts every person with a disability.

In his wonderful memoir "Moving Violations" John Hockenberry
describes an encounter he once had with an airline hostess who, seeing
that he used a wheelchair, opined that if she was in his shoes she’d
probably have to kill herself.

All people with disabilities can narrate stories like Hockenberry’s.

"Parchesi" enters the picture when individuals or groups decide that
public ignorance should be warranted or rewarded with inaction.

The argument that blind people don’t need accessible money falls into this category of abjection.

I travel frequently in Europe and I’m always liberated by having and holding their accessible bills.

We blind people have plenty of problems alright. But the idea that
fighting for full inclusive life will in some way diminish us in the
eyes of the public is in my view one of the biggest problems of all.

And here’s one more thing to think about: as the population of the
United States continues to age we will perforce have many millions of
citizens who will be affected by "low vision". I think that people who
see with great difficulty will be helped profoundly by money that comes
in different shapes and colors. So will the general public.

I believe that the best accommodations for people with disabilities
are the ones that benefit the most people. Wheelchair ramps help moms
and dads with strollers and elderly people with walkers. And do you
ever wonder why we now have "family friendly" public restrooms complete
with diaper changing stations?

It’s because under the ADA we improved the design of bathrooms and
Holy Cow! We discovered that we could make better spaces for everybody!

Better is better.

Parchesi is really a dull game if your head stays on your shoulders.


Reid My Mind

I think change is in the air

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

0 thoughts on “Of Parchesi and Blindness”

  1. Such a change will also make it easier for people with vision problems to work in jobs where they must handle money. It makes it more possible for them to be cashiers or managers. Yes, ADA makes life better for everyone.
    Your voting story is ironic to me, because the only working ADA booth when I voted was the one for vision impairment, and I was directed to it; there was no booth for wheels users or people who must sit down, as required, so I had to vote in the open, without adequate writing support/surface to bubble the form on.


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