The Biggest Challenge for the Blind

Not long after the KNFB Reader app, an OCR app, came out, someone posted to a blindness technology forum asking for tips on using the app to read restaurant menus. The post inspired a heated debate about the efficiency of using a scanning app to read menus versus reading the menu in advance or just asking for sighted assistance.

In a different incident, there were once two blind travelers at a Greyhound station. When their bus arrived, the first blind traveler got up and headed for the gate. The driver greeted them and called out to the second traveler that they too could go ahead and board the bus. The second traveler refused, insisting they did not want to get in line first just because they were blind. The driver said they would be first not because they were blind but because no one else had lined up for this less popular route. The blind traveler was skeptical and refused to board until they could get in line behind other passengers.

A developer launched an app to help blind consumers be more productive. Half the customer base was happy to pay the price to use the app. The other half publically railed against the developer for charging for what they felt should have been free.

Elsewhere in the country a blind married couple argued the pros and cons of training with a guide dog. She thought it might enhance her independence. He felt it would make her look too blind. She thought it would make trips smoother. He felt it would make them complicated.

So just how does a blind person become independent? Well, you go to a training center, silly, but not just any training center. You have to go to one of a specific variety influenced by a specific organization dominated by a specific philosophy, and even then only one of the three remaining options is worth its salt... Anything less would just be, well, silly.

The world, though built for the sighted, does not erect challenges half as steep as those the blind community imposes on itself.

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Think about the guy who drags himself upstairs onn crutches and due to poor balance is always in danger of falling. But he refuses to use a manual chair. Think now of that guy in the manual chair whose arms and shoulders ache each day with increasing arthritis, whose back is giving out because he's pushed himself around for forty years, but he still refuses to use a power chair. Think now about the guy in the power chair, so spastic he can barely land on the correct control, yet refuses to use a head wand to drive that chair.

All disabilities face this dilemma. Some people go overboard, becoming too independent for their own good in an effort to prove their ability. Others are afraid to step out to grow. The truly mature people with disabilities make decisions based on their current abilities, not on what others believe is the best way. They use a dog when it helps more, a cane when it works better. They use a manual chair when they know their balance is compromised, a power chair when their shoulders ache or the route is long. I use a sighted guide if I want to get somewhere unfamiliar fast. My friend uses his crutches when the manual chair would be inconvenient and the rout isn't very exhausting or long. He uses his manual chair when he wants to carry groceries and get upper-body exercise. I use a dog when the route is unfamiliar but I have lots of time to get there. I use the cane when I want to find those pesky walk signs which aren't at the intersection. And my sighted husband reads the screen when I really need info from an inaccessible program. I use navigation software so he can focus on the driving. I find the hotels and gas stations, I track what's coming up at the next exit. I have chosen symbiosis with the sightling in my life, not full independence or dependence.

It's not about independence but freedom. We have the freedom to choose which coping method will help us best. Let's all work towards making the wisest choices each day.

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