October 4, 2012 by palamow


Hello from Luquillo,

Last week I suggested that I might occasionally post an opinion piece in this space. I also vowed never to resort to political rhetoric in any of my posts.

Today, my blog post is an ‘apolitical opinion piece’, so it fulfills both pledges. It concerns two words whose use I consider offensive – I cringe whenever I hear either of these words used to describe persons with visual impairments (i.e.: various forms of blindness).

I find these words to be not only personally abhorrent but highly inaccurate – these words: disability and handicap are distasteful to those in the ‘blind community’. Blind persons are anything but disabled, and are certainly not handicapped in any way.

Doubtful?  Please take a moment to consider the following:


A common urban myth holds that persons who are blind or who have extremely low vision are ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped’. If you are among those who subscribe to this myth, I suggest that you use your imagination and perform the following mental exercise:

Picture this scenario – imagine that when you awake and get out of bed tomorrow morning you put on a blindfold or mask that prevents you from seeing. Then continue to picture yourself beginning the morning’s activities ‘in the dark’ so to speak, as you head to the bathroom. Unless you are unusually adept, you will find that performing common tasks like shaving (or applying makeup), brushing your teeth, and so on, become just a little more difficult when you can’t see what you are doing. When you’re done in the bathroom, imagine going to the closet to retrieve your clothes (remembering where each item is hung without seeing it can be a tough job). Then envision getting yourself dressed and heading downstairs to prepare and eat your breakfast.

If you can remember where what you need is stored in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator you can feel your way through assembling and preparing your eggs, toast and coffee, (making sure you don’t scald yourself in the process). When you’re finished, wash-up the dirty dishes and put them away. After that is done, imagine carefully getting yourself down the stairs and out on the street – and then walking to the corner to catch the bus (you can envisage using a long white cane to help you navigate like blind folks do) When the bus arrives, ask the driver if this is the bus that will get you to your desired location – if it is, climb-on and use your cane to find an empty seat. Listen carefully to the bus driver’s announcements so you don’t miss your stop.

When you get to your stop, alight carefully, using your cane to make sure you don’t stumble on the curb. If your office is close-by, you’re in luck – you won’t need to cross any busy streets while listening to the traffic flow to determine when it’s safe to cross. Once you reach your office building, find your way to your office or workstation, pull-out your chair and sit down. Feel your way across your desk to find your computer and turn-it-on (since you can’t see your computer’s screen, you rely on special ‘assistive software’ that ‘reads’ what is on the screen to you) – and so you begin your ‘normal’ workday.

From time-to-time, interrupt what you are doing (writing/editing documents and so on) to check your e-mail messages and answer any correspondence. Also,  check your telephone for voice mail and answer any important calls (you’ll have memorized the telephones keyboard). Next, find your way to the restroom and the coffee machine – go to the lunchroom at noon – after lunch, continue to work on all the projects and tasks that you are normally faced with each day.  At the end of the day, save all of your work, turn-off your computer, lock-up your desk or office – walk back out to the street and wait for the proper bus to arrive, and make your way home, listening carefully to the bus driver so you don’t miss your stop.

Using your cane, walk back to your house, unlock the door, go in, wash-up and begin to prepare dinner. When you are finished, wash the dishes and put them away. Now you can relax; listen to the radio or to the TV(you can’t see the screen), or turn-on your home computer to download and ‘read’ the news using your screen reader.

Okay, now your day is done – time to take off your clothes, take a shower and get ready for bed – and to remove your imaginary blindfold.

In your mind’s eye, you have just vicariously experienced the kind of every-day challenges, at home and at work, that are second nature to those who are blind or have extremely low-vision. Neither ‘handicapped’ nor ‘disabled’, blind persons are probably the most ‘handy’ and ‘able’ folks you will ever encounter.

If you try to consider their abilities and not their hypothetical disabilities when you are evaluating them., you will swiftly realize how extraordinarily organized and confident your blind/low-vision colleagues must be while deploying their highly perfected mobility and accessibility skills along with their professional know-how to help government agencies, private industry and small, businesses thrive and prosper.

Special considerations are neither solicited nor deemed appropriate by blind/low-vision folks – and any attempts at pity are universally frowned upon.  These people only ask that they be measured by the same high standards you use to measure yourselves. If you can remember to do that, you will find that blind folks will tend to accept you without prejudice as well…

OK – end of speech – I’m stepping-down from my battered soapbox and offering this final prosaic (but heartfelt) ‘grace note’ for your consideration:

When I suddenly lost most of my eyesight thirteen years ago (I’m currently ‘blind in one eye – and can’t see out of the other’, as the old joke goes) I was predictably distraught and discouraged.

For weeks I moped around, sadly bemoaning my fate. Then I began to realize all that I had been missing – I recognized that sight had been contributing to the sensory overload of my daily life – without it, I began to more fully appreciate some important things I had overlooked or even missed entirely in my former ‘sighted’ past – using my remaining senses, I was overwhelmed by the the smell of wild ginger beside a well-traveled path – my ears were tickled by a lizard cuckoo’s cackling laugh just before a forest rain squall – I was entranced by the ocean’s roar as it struck the beach beneath my apartment balcony, laced with children’s happy laughter and the excited barking of dogs – I was comforted by the sweet sound of my wife’s voice, and reassured by the feeling of her hand on my shoulder.

All things considered, I’d been reawakened to so much that I had taken for granted in the past – although I have lost my sight – I have regained my vision…

© 2012 – Alan Mowbray Jr.


One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 4

  1. beach-chair says:

    Alan! thanks for helping us to think about how blindness effects daily living but how overcoming blindness effects character. You are an example to all of us.

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