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Editorial: Learning to Get Up and Go...It's Your Life to Lead

Whenever I meet a blind person for the first time who has spunk, drive and determination, I usually wonder what has happened in that person's life. Why does that person have these traits--that "get up and go" approach to life--while so many others do not...?

Most of the time, the individual cannot point to one single cause or defining moment in their life that made it happen! Of course, as individuals, we are as different from each other as the members of any other group in our society, and this fact should come as no surprise to anyone.

Perhaps a "get up and face the world" approach stems from a supportive family, good role models or mentors, an effective rehab program, or simply gaining opportunities and positive experiences that others have never had.

Expectations from one's family or friends can play an important part. Too often we tend to see ourselves as other see us. If others have higher expectations of us, and assumptions of what we can become, these may help propel us to achieve.

While gaining the alternative skills of blindness, including good mobility skills, are imperative for emotional stability, adjustment and independence, our society must become more accessible and accepting if these newly acquired skills are to be used to their maximum benefit.

For instance, it's important to learn braille, and this skill can be extremely helpful in one's personal life such as in making grocery lists, labelling personal items and recreational reading, but this skill cannot be of as much use to a blind person as it might otherwise be if government reports, school textbooks and leisure reading are not readily available in braille. Knowing how to use a white cane is crucial, but again, its use is limited if the blind traveller meets with public transit drivers who will not call out stops or encounters sidewalks or construction sites that are littered with so many obstacles as to make independent travel with a cane difficult or even unsafe. Computer and adaptive technology skills are only of maximum use, furthermore, if people can afford the equipment, gain necessary training on the hardware/software, and have the opportunity to utilize these skills in education or employment settings.

An individual can learn alternative skills, but unless the "system" or society allows for the exercise of these skills to their maximum, the blind person's options, opportunities and independence will still remain needlessly limited. Which leads to another point--once you've acquired all the blindness skills you can (assuming there's someone available to train you in a timely and cost-effective manner) and you venture into the big, wide world, your confidence, energy and sense of achievement can often be dashed by routinely encountering unaware employers; inaccessible bank machines, public transit, newspapers and other published materials, websites etc.; not to mention unfriendly, condescending, babying, or just plain rude or ignorant attitudes.

And once you encounter these confidence-dashing obstacles time after time, it can be exhausting filing informal or formal complaints, a process which itself can drain confidence. It takes a certain determination and resilience to keep at it and maintain the pressure until you get results, and even then the results may not be what you want, or have the right to expect.

This is why organizations like the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians exist, and why we work hard to effect positive changes in the areas of attitudes and public policy, to achieve direct impact on areas that affect our everyday lives--advocating for increased access to orientation and mobility training, convincing bus and streetcar drivers to call out stops, lobbying for greater availability of printed materials in multiple formats and for websites to be made truly usable, and seeking to change public attitudes--so all persons who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted can feel accepted and comfortable participating in regular community life. Through our efforts, and network of members who have varying degrees of experience with vision loss, too, we hope that more citizens who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted will have the opportunity to develop, or discover, that spunk and determination that has propelled so many others forward.

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