At first glance, the Bible has a rather limited view of people who are blind. We don’t see them successfully employed. They are usually pictured as miserable beggars who, occasionally, are given the opportunity to have their sight restored through a miracle.
A deeper reading of the scriptures, however, reveals to us that each and every person, being a member of the body of Christ, has a purpose in his kingdom. God leaves no one out who is willing to follow him. We all need to remind ourselves of this fact, to help the kingdom of God come to fruition on earth – a hope we pray for each time we recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Early in July, I was privileged to attend, as a Canadian visitor, the annual convention of the American Council of the Blind in Las Vegas. This organization, more than 50 years old, has among its members lawyers, teachers, government employees and many other blind people who are successfully working in a number of professions.
The organization has changed what it means to be blind for thousands of America’s blind citizens. Along with another group, the National Federation of the Blind, it has extended the rights and status of the blind far beyond what exists in Canada.
In Canada, unfortunately, the situation is just not as positive for the blind. While there are certainly very significant issues facing the blind in the U.S., blind people there have been able to organize, confront and overcome many of these concerns. Chief among these, and absolutely pivotal, is the constructive self-image that blind people need to have in order to succeed. (Indeed, in one of his most thought provoking speeches at the conference, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the former president of the National Federation of the Blind, urged blind people to see their blindness as just a characteristic or, at worst, an inconvenience that should not prevent them from having successful and fulfilled lives.)
There has been little leadership among blind people themselves in Canada to establish a truly effective self-expression and public advocacy. Instead of fostering a public recognition that blind people need productive employment, for the very same reasons that everybody else does, and that those who are not able to obtain work should at least be provided with a sufficient pension to live with dignity, there is a culture of simply giving them limited rehabilitation services based on charity through such organizations as the CNIB.
This dilemma is succinctly described in a groundbreaking analysis by Graeme McCreath, in his brilliant book, The Politics of Blindness: from Charity to Parity. Mr. McCreath, who is fortunate among the blind to actually have a successful career, dispels the many myths about blindness – and the significant damage that Canadian society has forced the blind to undergo by preferring to view them as objects of pity and charity, rather than capable, worthy of respect and simply wishing to live a full and normal life.
Last summer, when Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne publicly called for an enquiry into the issue of missing aboriginal women, I wrote to her, asking if she might look into the chronic 80 per cent unemployment rate among the blind and the consequent egregious poverty in which the vast majority of them are thus forced to languish. She has never answered my letter. In today’s Ontario, it seems, the blind are quite invisible – especially to their own Premier.
Just like everyone else, blind people are individuals. One reflection of this is the existence of a Blind Pride group within the American Council of the Blind for LGBT blind people. I also met a man, born in China, who represented that country at the World Blind Union meeting in 1996, which I also attended, and who now teaches English in San Francisco.
The kingdom of God is within each of us; it grows there day by day. Let us continue to work and pray together for its realization over all the earth, till righteousness reigns everywhere.