by Daveed Mandell
As a blind child growing up during the 1950s and 1960s, my parents, teachers and several blind adults constantly told me that I must become independent. They said I had to learn independent living skills in order to manage on my own with a minimum of help from sighted people. I would have to prove to myself and to the world at large that blindness did not mean helplessness.
So I learned independent living skills and worked hard to become as independent as possible. I was proud of my accomplishments and very much appreciated the lessons I was taught as a child.
Let’s move forward to the more complex, technology-driven world of the 21st century. Much work is being done to make the world more accessible to everyone. As its complexity grows, so too does the world’s visual content, much of which remains inaccessible to blind and visually impaired individuals.
Of course, some of this content has become amazingly accessible, thanks to artificial intelligence. Yet, paradoxically, the need to depend on sighted people to translate much of it has greatly increased. No problem. Blind smartphone owners can readily obtain visual assistance, thanks to such apps as Be My Eyes or Aira. Whether it’s reading a letter, assembling a laundry cart or finding one’s way to the grocery store, help is always readily at hand.
Sounds wonderful, right? Nonetheless, several questions arise. Is this a positive development, or have we embarked on the road to a new dependence? Does expanded accessibility to the world around us necessarily require greater dependence? Is there a conflict between accessibility and independence? Are the lessons I learned growing up as a blind child out of touch, out of date?
I don’t know all the answers to these questions. It is so tempting to call Aira or Be My Eyes and get immediate assistance. No stress, no pain. I can then move on to deal with other aspects of my life. But the voices of yesteryear sometimes nag at me and tell me that I should be careful not to sacrifice the independence I worked so hard to gain.