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Stop Simulating Blindness

December 3 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Disabled Persons. It should encourage all of us to consider the plight of persons with disabilities in our communities, and do more to remove barriers and help persons with disabilities integrate into all aspects of regular community life.

Attitudes remain our greatest obstacle! They often demean our value as human beings, and result in behaviours and the creation of barriers that leave the bulk of us on the sidelines, trapped in poverty, seeking that elusive goal of being able to participate fully in Canada's mainstream.

Blindness remains one of the most feared disabilities in Canada. Many sighted individuals wonder "what it would be like to be blind", and some of these individuals go so far as to blindfold themselves for a short period of time to attempt to gain some understanding of what life might be like without sight.

At best, these simulations are likely to produce only a false sense of reality, as these simulations are usually fairly brief, and the participant knows the blindfold can be removed at any time.

But simulating blindness usually produces additional fear, desperation and despair. Done incorrectly it can lead to accidents, public humiliation and misperception of eyesight as a component of life that the participant couldn't possibly live without.

The inherent dangers in simulating blindness are usually overlooked. The experience is far more likely to produce a better idea of the difficulties associated with suddenly losing your sight tonight, and not what it is really like to live your life as a person who is blind or has low vision. Simulations allow no time for reflection, rehabilitation and acquisition of the alternative skills used by persons who are blind, which enables many of us to live independent lives.

Rather than using simulations, talk with blind persons in your community. Engage us; involve us in training programs. We are the experts on what it is like to be blind, and many of us are willing to help educate the public on the realities of blindness.

On the International Day of Disabled Persons, think of what you can do to help remove barriers. As an employer, have you ever considered hiring a blind person? There are many well-qualified individuals out there looking for work.

If your organization has a website, is it fully usable by all who might visit your site?

If you are a theatre chain, are you planning to install audio description, so that we may fully enjoy a movie?

If you are a publisher or producer of print materials, are all your print books, magazines, documents and papers available in alternative formats that persons who are blind can easily access and enjoy?

And if you are in the media, please consider the ways in which all persons with disabilities are portrayed. Are we depicted in pitiable stories, or are our news issues receiving full coverage?

With real understanding and commitment, everyone has a role to play in removing barriers and helping us to integrate fully into the mainstream of Canadian life.