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Challenges and Opportunities Facing Visually Impaired Persons

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The essay prepared by Laura Beaudin set out below was one of the prize winning essays in a contest sponsored by the World Blind Union and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Prize winners received full funding to attend the meetings of the World Blind Union in Melbourne, Australia.

One hundred years ago, being visually impaired meant being condemned to a life of confinement and institutionalization. It was almost unheard of that visually impaired people undertake steps to become educated and employed. Often seen as helpless by society and as a burden by the family, they could only dream of having a family and living an independent life.

As the years passed, many people have fought for our rights. They stubbornly stood up for us so that today, people like us (the blind and visually impaired) have the chance to live an independent life as freely as anyone else. The challenges of yesterday become the opportunities of today.

As visually impaired people, we are taught to see life as a challenge; to face it and fight for our independence. This means to be persistent in what is important to us: equality and non-discrimination. Through this ongoing fight, many changes such as improved accessibility technology, braille and tools to help in daily living skills have aided us in showing the world that we can do the same things as anyone else. What was once perceived as a challenge has become an opportunity to demonstrate how far the visually impaired have advanced in today's society.

Discrimination has always been a large challenge for a visually impaired person to overcome. It had never been easy but with the persistence of a few came the victory for many. Changes were made in our society because a few people refused to give up on something that meant so much to them. These changes have allowed the visually impaired person to become an equal to the average citizen as opposed to a minor. It has allowed us to compete with our peers instead of being passed over for a job or a seat in a prominent college.

With new opportunities however, comes the challenge that these opportunities are not foolproof. With our technology comes a dependence on electricity, which is greater than anyone else and is limited to where we can access these technologies. It remains impossible for us to simply browse the books in a bookstore; the scanners needed to accomplish this are too large to transport for such a task.

We need to face oncoming problems with the right attitude. Attitude is what has allowed us to meet challenges in the past and have them transformed into opportunities. Had Helen Keller not fought her way to a higher education and freedom, many of us following her might not had the courage to stand up for our freedom and independence. Had Louis Braille not spent years developing the braille system, reading would still be a long and tedious chore.

The people of yesterday have helped to shape our present and have given us the tools necessary to confront life with the necessary attitude to be successful. Thanks to them, we are no longer segregated and forced to live among our kind.

We still have challenges on a daily basis. We must constantly deal with the pangs of discrimination and the injustices of those who fear us because we cannot see. Had it not been for those before us, however, many opportunities that we now enjoy would have been non-existent. The challenges of yesterday are the opportunities of today.

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