Blindness in Especial

vintage photo of blind woman wearing sign

It is easy to say that things are good. Things are good. Bubble gum for instance is now available in sugar free varieties. It was not so distinguishable in my youth. We may cite several examples of generalized goodness and shall not divagate from our purpose. “Blindness in especial” is our theme.

We should say from the outset that it is better to be blind now than it was when the photograph above was taken. There are many reasons, not the least of which is that the “ugly laws” are out of style (though certainly we ought to maintain vigilance where that matter is concerned, eh?) We speculate that the poor woman pictured above was allowed a sign that said “blind” as a kind of passport—a severely ironic passport—but a passport nonetheless, as the sign allowed her to stand on the street when other people with physical defects were prevented by law from doing so. “Blind” meant that she was a socially or civically sanctioned beggar, not to be confused with the other deformed people who were not permitted on the sidewalks of these United States. We continue to recommend The Ugly Laws by Susan Schweik.

And so we say things are better and we mean it. Surely.

Blindness in especial means blindness as a sub-category—though we may not know what category we mean precisely—though in general terms we are discussing human rights. You likely see the problem immediately: blindness and/or vision impairments will invariably occupy an indexed position when we speak of the “good”—and by this we mean the “human good” for it is not our intention today to discuss the animals though we love them sincerely.

The subject we are embarking upon is either large or small depending on your philosophical position. But let’s say the subject is small. Blindness does not enter into considerations of engineering, technology, human resources, street signs, public recreation facilities, transit, education, libraries—the critical organs of civil life if you will.

No visually impaired person is ever unmindful of this fact, though he or she may be thankful to live in these United States as opposed to rural Uganda where blind women are routinely persecuted because after all, they are surely witches. As I said above: it is easy to say that things are good.

Yet the blind are persecuted still and right here in the US of A. And like all matters of persecution the process can be self-delivered, for indeed as we all know, those who are stigmatized will in some instances further their own stigmatization through the unfeeling and unthinking machinations of the defective people industry.     





We have spoken here before of the shameful activities of the Iowa Department for the Blind. See the story of Stephanie Dohmen at:


Briefly, Ms. Dohmen was taking a computer course at the IDFB but was told that she couldn’t bring her guide dog to class. The Iowa Department for the Blind is influenced heavily by a Baltimore based organization of blind people called the National Federation of the Blind. The NFB believes that everyone who is receiving training with a talking computer must wear a blindfold. Or by turns, if you’re learning how to navigate the world you must wear a blindfold. The idea is that if you have minimal or “residual” vision (that is, you are legally blind and not entirely without light) then you must learn how to be entirely blind even if all you want to do is take a computer class to get a job or what have you. This restrictive and inhumane policy is not broadly believed to be a matter of best practice and yet the Iowa Department for the Blind clings to this medieval idea. In Ms. Dohmen’s case, one can scarcely understand how a guide dog would have interfered with her taking a computer class. And let’s also be clear that the IDFB’s position is illegal under the ADA. But we digress.

It is our view that many organizations that purport to assist blind and visually impaired people are in fact components of what we in disability studies call “the defective people industry”. Human rights of course are not negotiable, cannot be subborned, can’t be relegated to minor clauses, are not conditional. We must be clear. And the prospect of the blind leading the blind into abjection and additional confusion is distressing to us.

We shall talk more about blindness in especial in the coming weeks.

Just keep in mind that some 70 % of the blind remain unemployed in this country. The defective people industry must be at work!




0 thoughts on “Blindness in Especial

  1. Regarding your statement, “like all matters of persecution the process can be self-delivered, for indeed as we all know, those who are stigmatized will in some instances further their own stigmatization through the unfeeling and unthinking machinations of the defective people industry.”
    Like you, SK, I will very much rejoice when extraordinary access strategies to society’s products and services are built into the fabric of a society that recognizes the broad and ever-changing abilities of its citizens, when the “extraordinary” becomes the ordinary. For example, what is “ordinary” right now in the world of visual adaptations? When people people are nearsighted, farsighted or presbyopic (needing eyeglasses specifically for close-up work), they are not considered unemployable, they wear eyeglasses, a type of assistive technology. Rather than dooming a person to blindness in their later years, cataract surgery, still a major cause of vision impairment world-wide, is fixable with a routine visit to the eye doctor in developed countries. With regards to competetive employment, the measure that ADA imposes is for the person, with reasonable accommodations, to be able to adequately accomplish the primary duties of the job. I.e., it seeks to negate discriminatory practices based primarily on prejudice against the vision impairment, regardless of ability.
    My greatest concern now is that, even in cases where ADA and current technology is effectively and judiciously applied, significant visual problems that are not related to focusing problems still put relatively greater numbers of people, especially those with additional physical/cognitive impairments, at a functional disadvantage in the current job market. We’ll either need to super-charge the assistive technology or change the nature of the job market. (See my next post in SK’s September 2 posting for my comments on the latter. “Defective people industries” both government and private (e.g. Social Security, non-profit rehabilitation agencies, the medical community and private companies that market assistive technology) are far from perfect in so many ways with regards to their ability to provide effective, economical assistance when access strategies in the larger society do not exist. However, my thinking is that we must all continue to work toward their continued betterment until the happy day arrives when they become obsolete due to the development of truely universal access and participation strategies.


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