(Editor's Note: "From Your Perspective" is a column that appears occasionally. Its contents vary from technology to religion, from internal goings-on to items of concern in the blindness field in general. The opinions expressed are those of the authors, not those of the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. "The Braille Forum" cannot be held responsible for the opinions expressed herein.)
According to statistics quoted by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), there are 21.2 million Americans with vision loss (see www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=15&DocumentID=4398#numbers).
Let's say that the combined memberships of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) are 100,000 people. (This is an extremely generous estimate.) This means that 99.5 percent of Americans with vision loss are affiliated with neither organization. Both organizations have great growth potential.
Both ACB and NFB have made public statements criticizing the movie "Blindness," released recently, based on the 1995 book by Portuguese Nobel literature laureate Jose Saramago. The criticism stems from concern that the characterizations of people who are blind in the movie will be misinterpreted and applied to people who are blind in society as a class.
The population of people who are blind and with low vision is extremely diverse. One thing I have learned since becoming active in ACB is that there is great danger in painting those who are blind and those with low vision with a broad brush. There is a tendency of many to view the world as black and white. The reality is that the world is limitless shades of gray. Diversity is a good thing but not always easy.
Everyone in the community has their right to express their opinion. Just like there is concern that a movie such as "Blindness" will be projected onto all people who are blind as a class, there is parallel concern that the opinion or position of any given organization of the blind may be interpreted as representing the views of all people who are blind. The numbers certainly indicate that the vast majority of people choose, for whatever reason, to remain un-affiliated.
NFB's slogan -- "Voice of the Nation's Blind" -- is misleading. I am a proud member of ACB, and, as such, have not relinquished the right to speak for myself. Freedom of speech is good as long as it is not deceptive. Some feel that freedom of speech does not apply to "Blindness" because the movie is misleading. Many of these same people represent themselves as being the Voice of the Nation's Blind. NFB has every right -- as does ACB -- to represent its constituents, its members, and nothing more. Period.
I believe it is fair to characterize NFB as an organization that is driven from the top. ACB promotes diversity of viewpoints. Either approach, taken to its extreme, can be counterproductive. I believe ACB values and encourages debate at the grass-roots level -- making organizational decisions based on this input. ACB and NFB each speak with single, albeit different, voices. Then there are the remaining 21.1 million Americans with vision loss.
Courage of our convictions is noble. When I say that there is a tendency to be black and white, I am referring to those who remain steadfast that their beliefs are right and everything else is wrong. Compromises are a fact of life. It is courageous to refine and alter one's convictions upon reflection of new information and life experiences.
At the end of the day, as advocates, we must ensure that what we advocate for does not limit the rights of those who may not be of the same mind, whether it be between classes of disability or within our own class -- which has many sub-classes -- as evidenced by the number of special-interest affiliates that exist in ACB.
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