by Mary Haroyan
When thinking of diversity within ACB, you don’t need to explore very far to find it in all of its state and special-interest affiliates, committees and task forces. This rich tapestry of people who are blind, have low vision or sighted who are drawn together to help make the quality of life better for people with vision loss. We debate, discuss, advocate, laugh, and socialize. We can be ourselves in a way that we can’t always when among sighted people, and this gives us a comfort and familiarity that can be uplifting. When I was in my thirties and joining ACB about 20 years ago, it was eye-opening to be in a community with so many others who were blind and going about their very fulfilling lives. Over time I learned to feel more comfortable with being blind, through interactions and observations.
Of course we as people with vision loss are so much more than our disability or disabilities and want to be recognized for all we are. We are people from varied family, cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds. We have had varying degrees of good and bad experiences in education, employment and all forms of societal interactions. We are shaped by all of these realities. I know for myself as a white woman who has been blind, first having low vision and then becoming nearly totally blind, I’d always considered my blindness as the most identifiable part of me. In being more amongst sighted people and inevitably being the only blind person in the room, I always felt I was standing out, and not in such a good way!
As I have grown older, more aware and hopefully a bit wiser, I’ve come to realize that while the presence of blindness in people’s lives is profound and life-altering, it is by no means the only life-shaping influences that exist in our lives. For many members of ACB, their blindness is not the only identity by which they have been prejudged by others. I think we need to keep in the forefront of our minds that our fellow ACB members who are people of color, members of an ethnic or religious minority, part of the LGBTQ community and dealing with other disabilities have all experienced actions or heard words that were intolerant and insensitive in addition to what comes our way as people who are blind. I know that it has taken a lot of energy on my part in not allowing myself to always feel so inadequate or flawed because of how the sighted world may see me; I can’t imagine the anxiety of having to deal with another layer of bias.
What I hope for and would love to see is for ACB as a microcosm, to be the example that the wider world should want to follow. We can show how empowering it can be to embrace not resent or fear our diversity. We’ll make room for all by showing respect and understanding, acknowledging that this inclusion of all members when working together will make us a force of change going long into the future. Let us always remember and truly appreciate that the ACB community is the world.