Turning a Blind Eye to Inequality
Written by James Boehm
Your boss just handed you a check for a weeks worth of work. The payment reflects a week worth of work consisting of an eight to five time frame. As you glance down at the the piece of paper, looking at the total amount, you notice a minute total of $1.35. You rub your eyes to ensure that your vision is not playing tricks on you. As you verify with the calendar to your left, you verify that, yes, it is the year 2013, not 1803. How is this possible? Can such a form of recompense for services rendered be justified legally?
Now consider this: You have just become a proud parent of a beautiful baby girl! The newborn portrays a perfect balance of her parent’s features. What a proud moment in a new parent’s life! You hold your new addition to your family and observe this little one, who at first sight of his new parents, presents a smile of contentment. Soon, the nurses proceed to take the child from the delivery room and prepare the child for the nursery. You did not know as the physicians file out of the room, this will be the last time you would see your child for quite some time. In fact, later on you are notified that you are not perceived to be a capable parent, and thus the child has been put in the care of a stranger rather than you. What an indescribable feeling that words of pain and sorrow cannot even begin to portray!
No one would think, especially now in our advanced and civilized society, would such circumstances occur. Yet such occurrences are experienced by individuals with visual impairments so frequently it terrifies even the most courageous. Blindness should not be a factor in determining if a person is capable of raising a child. Such issues arise due to the misconceptions of abilities of the blind. When considering the qualifications for employment or parenthood, blindness should not be a determining factor.
There have been many advances in education and laws that uphold the unalienable rights of the blind and disabled. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that attention was brought to the protection of rights of the blind in various aspects. In 1990, the statutes of the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, outlined numerous regulations on healthcare, accessibility in transit, public education, housing, and labor, to name a few. While there have been many strides towards equality, the common discrimination brings to light the need to educate the public that there is still a lot of work to do. Many organizations, including the NFB, National Federation of the Blind,The American Council for the Blind (ACB), and The American Foundation of the Blind (AFB), actively take part in education, training, and legislation for the visually impaired. Likewise, these organizations educate the public on the misconceptions of blindness. History and numerous examples have shown that people who are blind, with the proper training, education, and tools, can competitively work along side the sighted public.
The blind have the right to receive fair and competitive wages in their employment. Sub-minimum wages are being paid to blind and disabled persons in the work force. According to the Braille Monitor, a 78 year old provision called the Fair Labor Standards Act, permits United States companies to receive certificates from the government when the company has hired a blind or disabled person (Danielson). With such a certificate, a person can be paid sub-minimum wages. Companies like Goodwill advertise and boast about their hiring of disabled workers. Nevertheless, these same companies have been documented as paying absurdly low hourly rates. “…Goodwill affiliates operate manufacturing operations that employ people with disabilities under special wage certificates at wages as low as 22 cents per hour…” (Danielson). Organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind, and American Council of the Blind, protest against and boycott such companies, exposing the companies’ inequitable standards. In the aforementioned article, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, states, “Don’t donate to or purchase goods from Goodwill until it adopts a responsible corporate policy to pay its works with disabilities at least the federal minimum wage Current legislation is in the works to amend the ADA so companies will no longer take advantage of the laws that actually were set forth to protect the disabled. The discriminating employers argue that changes to current legislation would create a financial hardship , causing them to either to shut down or terminate employees. Such idiotic reasoning is attempting to frame the employers as victims. How can employers consider themselves victims when the revenue they collect is beyond the income derived from the actual productivity of the worker who is disabled? Such companies that give the perception that they are helping the disabled community receive tax benefits, public funding, donations, preferred contracts before one of their employees even step foot into the factory. In contrast, such justification exposes the perverse exploitation the existing provisions authorized by the Fair Wages Act.
Now, another misconception that negatively affects the blind community is in parenting. Blindness should not be a determining factor in establishing if a person is capable of raising a child. According to The Huffington Post, in 2012, parents with disabilities “continue to be the only distinct community has to fight to retain and sometimes gain custody of their own children” (Crary). A Time Magazine article entitled “Rocking the Cradle- Ensuring the Rights of Parents,” notes that parents with disabilities face discrimination when the welfare of a child or family law, becomes an issue as well as adoption (Rochman). In 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed by Congress, implemented to protect parents with disabilities. Yet, the ADA at times has fallen short, pushing visually impaired parents into legal quicksand. Two thirds of state child welfare law list some type of disability as grounds for removing a child from the confines of a parents care and terminating the parental rights.
In a March 2010 ABC news report, a young blind family had just given birth to a lovely baby boy, but were dumb founded to find out that they could no longer have their child, could not hold the newborn, and would have to agree to supervised visits in order to see their son throughout the week (James). The NFB eagerly and rightfully brought suit against the hospital and child welfare services. The federation was successful in the legal battle, bringing an end to the discriminatory misconceptions expressed towards the capable, blind young family. One of the parents, Erika Johnson, stated after the ordeal, “We’re visually impaired, not mentally impaired. And you know we’re just like everybody else, we just can’t see as well. (James)
Luci Alexander, a blind parent of two children under the age of 10, and the director for blind services in New Mexico, stated in March of 2013 that “blind parents perform the same duties of caring for a child.” Blind parents can execute necessary tasks for their children auditory just as well as those who do those same activities visually. A visually impaired parent can tell by sound distinctions if a child has a baby bottle in their hand or toy, to see if the child has acquired an item it should not have. Likewise, no matter if a parent is sighted or not, a child can pick up things off the floor or get into mischief. The point is the parent has to be observant and mindful of the child’s behavior. Disability rights lawyer Robyn Powell comments on this in the Huffington Post article previously mentioned saying, “Of course there are going to be some parents with disabilities who would be lousy parents – that’s the same with parents without disabilities” (Crary). Obviously, orderliness, preparation, and a conscientious effort to have a safe home environment is necessary, and all of this can be done quite effectively by the unsighted.
In conclusion, today’s misconceptions of blindness cause inequalities in regards to fair wages and employment and the rights of parents. Those who place stereotypes are blinder than the blind themselves. The misconception is if you do not have sight, you do not have the capacity. What people fail to realize is that blind people develop alternate ways of performing day-to-day tasks. Thus, the blind have demonstrated effectiveness and the ability to be beneficiaries of fair wages, employment, as well as not allowing their blindness be a determining factor of if they are a capable parent. Blindness misconceptions must be addressed further because the blind community is growing. According to Tina Lubarsky, an advocate for the ACB and a physical therapist, “Diabetic rhetanopothy is the leading cause for blindness today, affecting thirty percent of people with diabetes.” In an article “Don’t Blame the Eater, , David Zinzinko stated, “by 2050, one in three adults will suffer form type two diabetes.” If such trends continue, this means that one ninth of the population will suffer from diabetic retanopothy or some form of blindness. Urgency is needed to educate the public regarding the many misconceptions of blindness, and that further legislation is needed to protect and uphold the equality of all persons regardless of gender, disability, race, etc. Likewise, blindness should not be a factor when determining employment, fair wages, or distinguishing the capability of a potential parent. The exploitation of the disabled as a resource for charity revenue and fundraising must come to an end! Next time you get your paycheck, remember that the visually impaired are just as capable and deserve the same treatment in all of life’s aspects including in employment and parenthood.