I recently spent a number of early mornings listening to the proceedings of the seventh general assembly of the World Blind Union. I had the honor to represent ACB and the North American Region at two such assemblies. I would recommend to all of you that you take the time to listen to the archives of the assembly if you were not able to tune in when it was on live. There were a large number of issues that I could write about and it is probably arguable that the one I am actually going to talk about is not the most significant or the most serious issue that was discussed. However, the fact that the issue came up at all is an indication of how far the assembly and the World Blind Union have come. It is also interesting that the subject has been debated by ACB in the past. It is also one of those issues that has not been settled.
At the WBU, people with low vision gave a report on their activities and also wrote resolutions which both asked the same thing. Essentially what they asked was that the issues faced by people with low vision be given equal consideration with those issues faced by people who are blind. When put this way, it seems eminently reasonable that those of us who have no vision ought to be concerned about the welfare of brothers and sisters who have some vision but are still "blind." ACB is fortunate to have the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International (CCLVI). It is able to act as the affiliate which can bring forward to our convention resolutions and issues on which ACB can agree to act.
I think that, for the most part, ACB has been prepared to provide support for issues that are brought to us. I am not sure that we do a good job of going much further, though. That, my friends, is the real point.
Let us pause for a moment and put a few cards on the table, cards that we do not often look at. For every person with no vision, it would appear that there are nine people with some vision who are legally blind. We don't keep records in ACB and I do not think we should start now which measure the visual acuity or visual fields of our members. However, I would suggest to you that we don't come close to the nine partials to one total ratio. This, in itself, is a matter of concern to me. We are not doing a good job of attracting or retaining people with partial vision. Perhaps our membership committee should take a good, hard look at this issue. Why is it that low- vision folks don't join?
I think that some of the reasons are beyond our control. I think that many low-vision folks are uncomfortable acknowledging themselves as blind. They may well also feel that becoming a part of ACB would represent a final admission of blindness, which many low-vision folks are not prepared to do.
I do not think that is the whole story, though. I do not think we in ACB do nearly enough to highlight low-vision issues. Here are a few examples. Clearly people who are partially sighted would benefit from having more large-print books in libraries or bookstores. Clearly low- vision folks could benefit from many more signs that are truly easy to read. We talk a lot about accessible home appliances. How often do we include large displays or controls that can be visually recognized by a person who does not see well but who is legally blind?
People with low vision, a long time ago, wanted ACB to change its name to the American Council of the Visually Impaired. What a huge change such a name change might have wrought. No, I do not support that proposal for reasons I will offer later. However, I certainly believe that there is nothing inherently more correct about ACB than ACVI. All of us who are blind are visually impaired. All of our members who are legally blind are blind. We may well have lost members because of our insistence on retaining the word "blind," a core identifying characteristic.
I think that we must retain the word "blind" because it is a word that is better understood by the larger society in which our organization must function. It also evokes more empathy or even sympathy than any of the euphemisms we use to describe people who retain some vision. However, just because I don't support the name change, it does not mean I do not recognize that we must do more in ACB to make people with low vision feel more welcome and to make more of our issues resonate with them.
There are a few things I think we can all do and I, for one, pledge to do what I can. I promise to think about what impact anything I propose will have on partially sighted people. I pledge to actively encourage partially sighted people to bring us their issues and to help us become their advocates. I pledge to write visually impaired and blind at least as often as I write blind and visually impaired. Last, I promise to work to make ACB more inclusive. I cannot comment on all states but I would suggest to you that on our national board, we do not have a lot of people with low vision. I would suggest that the same thing is true at the state and local levels and in our special-interest affiliates, with one exception. I am not sure that we will be able to change this, but surely we can reach out to people with low vision and tell them we care about their issues. Surely we can work as hard on some of the identified needs of partially sighted people. Surely we can be sure that we are an organization of vision as well as an organization of the blind. Shall we try? I hope so!
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