It's been a while since I posted one of my advocacy posts. For a little moment, in honor of my success against the spam jam, I'm back to my old tricks.
I've seen a press release circulating from the NFB regarding the recent court decision regarding the need for accessibility in paper money. In light of this, I thought that I would share the following post I wrote to the ACB-L list regarding this issue.
It really bothers me to see organization bashing, regardless of where it comes from. If there is something legitimate to disagree about, I wish it would be done without resorting to insults; and I wish that the organizations would stop discounting the membership of the other group (and the unaffiliated) as "a small minority." The fact is that both of our organizational memberships put together really represent a very small segment of the population of blind and visually impaired people in this country. We can try to do our best at representing the viewpoint and needs of the majority of blind people; but the fact will always be that people have a variety of opinions and preferences, and someone will be displeased with something that is done. In general, I agree with the concept of being able to refuse an accommodation. However, the issue of currency is a very basic need, and I often find myself in situations where having the ability to handle my money quickly, efficiently and independently is vital. I have tried various systems of managing it over the years and finally settled on organizing it in different sections of my wallet so that I could remember what was where. When I folded it, I lost track of which denominations I had folded which way. Eliminating the need to sort money like this would make me a lot more efficient in my transactions, speeding up the lines I stand in, etc. It would also eliminate my vulnerability to dishonesty from people in my transactions. This is not a common occurrence [in my life] but has happened to me once or twice.
I read the press release, and I'm amazed that Maurer seems to think that businesspeople are the only people who need to identify their money independently. I suppose the rest of us are supposed to keep asking at the time of the transaction--and never misfile our money! We're back to the issue of slowing down transactions, which is a real sticking point with me because I spend my days as a grad student in a fast-moving university environment where I am not only
thinking of myself but of moving along so that the people behind me can get on with their transactions. I am heavily involved in advocacy for change in this environment. It is a private university, and there is a lot that still needs to be done to bring it to current ADA standards. As I have done the advocacy and the staff and students have seen the difference that the accommodations to the environment make in terms of independence, they see the point of the
change and don't view me or other people with disabilities negatively at all. It's rather amazing to me. Many of the staff remember when I was an undergrad here 15 years ago. I am able to point back to that time and say, "This is what I can do now that I could not do then. This is what I still could do that I can't do now." I'm also utilizing, for the first time in my life, the full range of technology available to me because I finally have funding from a
variety of sources to obtain it. So the ACB, or at least this member, does not just think that society should cater to the needs of blind people as if we are otherwise helpless; but there is a point where societal change is the change that is necessary.
All this has gotten me thinking about the concept of independence and advocacy in general. Do I have to climb mountains in order for people to understand that I am independent? No. Is it ok for me to accept help? Certainly, and sometimes accepting that help is a calculated social maneuver. There are some people who would say, if I said, "I can do that," that they know I can do it but they just want to help. It's just part of their personality, and they help the next person who comes along with a heavy bag. I've been working on training myself to be more observant of how people relate to each other as well as to me. If I get mad at the server in the restaurant for syruping me and calling me "sweetie," I try to listen and see if she does the same thing at the next table before I confront her on it. A lot of times, she does.
What does all of this mean for my efforts at independence? I'm finding that at least around here, people are becoming more receptive when I explain various options and why something is more preferable because it allows greater autonomy, more choices, etc. I'm hoping that in time, we will at least have a few sighted people in the world who understand blindness (and other disabilities) a little better and know how to think critically about things affecting people with disabilities. What I fear about the organizational standpoints is that they alienate people without disabilities and send a message that communicates that we don't trust you or want you advocating for us because you couldn't possibly know what we think or feel.