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Working on Issues Around the Globe: The World Blind Union

At the international level, the World Blind Union (WBU) is recognized voice of persons who are blind and partially sighted, and as of December 2011 it has been in existence for 27 years.

After a process that took about five years, the WBU was formed through the union of the International Federation of the Blind (IFB) and the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind (WCWB). However, the WBU represents over a century of global cooperation on blindness issues dating back to the first international conference in 1873 in Vienna, Austria.

Through the leadership of the WBU and the development of its constitution, one of the group’s achievements has been to provide a forum where people who are blind or experience low vision have established the right to speak for themselves. While the prominence of organizations “of” the blind is clearly embedded in its structures, the WBU has also been able to embrace the partnership of both service and consumer groups. While in 1984, about 60 countries were members of the WBU, today it has a representation of national member organizations in more than 170 countries.

Since it was founded in 1984, the WBU has made significant progress towards its objectives of representation, capacity building and resource sharing. Some of the highlights include: leadership and organizational development training, particularly for organizations of the blind in developing countries, in all areas of its work. The following are some of the most outstanding achievements: organization of world forums on such topics as rehabilitation, braille literacy, human rights, blind women and blind children; advocacy in such areas as free postal service for materials for blind persons, the abolition of blinding laser weapons, and the development and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

These achievements have laid the foundation for the continuation of work in three strategic priority areas of: representation, capacity building and resource sharing. Some of the specific objectives envisioned in the fulfilment of these priorities include: improving accessibility in the areas of reading materials, access to technology and safe and independent travel; representation of the needs of blind and partially sighted persons at the United Nations and its agencies; monitoring the implementation of the UN CRPD; building the capacity of organizations of the blind, particularly in developing countries; addressing the unemployment situation of blind persons around the world; addressing the particular needs of blind women, children, youth and elderly persons, as well as those with low vision; and establishing a resource bank on vision loss.

In undertaking its initiatives and fulfilling the objectives, the WBU remains committed to optimizing opportunities for cooperation and collaboration with UN Departments and Agencies with which it is involved, and other international partners. Officials at the World Blind Union believe that its partnerships and opportunities for collaboration have been key to its success and that they will be equally important for the future as they continue their work on changing what it means to be blind.

Adapted from a press release on the WBU’s website: www.worldblindunion.org

Blind Battle to Make Their Way in Ulaanbaatar

In several ways, Lkh.Urtnasan's story is atypical for a blind woman living in Ulaanbaatar. Despite losing her sight after a severe fall as a toddler, she has a university education, has studied in America and taught English in Japan, and now runs her own business as a masseuse and English tutor. However, Urtnasan says she still battles many of the same challenges and barriers faced by other blind and partially sighted people around Mongolia.

For her, one of the largest stumbling blocks is a lack of faith in blind people's abilities. While Urtnasan's massage business does fairly well--a masseuse is one of the few occupations available to the blind in Mongolia--very few people solicit her English tutoring services after discovering she cannot see. Living in Ulaanbaatar, she struggles to traverse the sidewalks, where ruts, uneven cobblestones and uncovered manholes pose regular danger, while the tactile walkways for the seeing-impaired (found on some of the city's main streets) are often interrupted by billboards. Public transportation, though free for the disabled, affords additional problems, as no announcements are made about which stop is which. Urtnasan's partially sighted husband, B.Khadbaatar, and a cane help her navigate the city, but it's difficult, especially with the growing traffic problem in Ulaanbaatar.

"People don't understand the white cane," she said. "It can be very difficult just to cross the street." Mongolian National Federation for the Blind (MNFB) Executive Director D.Gerel agrees that Mongolia suffers from a lack of awareness about blind people's conditions. "The government and sighted people generally don't [appreciate] our situation," she said. Getting people to recognize the difficulties and the abilities of blind people has been the MNFB's primary goal for about 30 years, but grabbing the ear of the public and politicians presents another challenge itself. After some initial success during the Socialist period, the MNFB struggled to win support for the blind in the early 1990s, as Mongolia struggled to establish itself as a democracy.

Over recent years, the MNFB has had some success, establishing the Rehabilitation and Training Center for the Blind, a Braille and Talking Book Publishing Center, and other facilities and initiatives with the help of international donors, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and the government--although they have sometimes had to fight for support from the latter. Over the last ten years, the MNFB has staged three hunger strikes to protest policies it saw as detrimental to blind Mongolians; the most recent of which took place last year following a proposal to alter the subsidy for disabled transportation. The demonstrations have worked and taught the blind community a lesson, according to Gerel. "If we want things to improve, we [blind people] need to do it ourselves," she said.

Urtnasan, who is a member of the board at MNFB, knows things can get better. During time she spent studying and teaching English in Japan, she experienced just how smoothly blind people can integrate into society.

"In Japan, everything is accessible," she said. "Blind people are living like they are sighted." That is not the case In Mongolia.

"Most blind people stay at home," Gerel said. "It's difficult for them to go out and socialize." According to MNFB estimates, over 8,000 blind people live in Mongolia, and only about two percent of the working-age, sight-impaired population have jobs; they work mostly as masseuses at the MNFB's massage centres, at a state-run ger factory, or at the MNFB itself. The rest live off a Tg40,000 government stipend, and the help of their friends and family.

Addressing these issues will be a tall order, but the Federation believes that it has made progress. Currently, it is attempting to connect blind Mongolians to each other, and to information and people around the world. If the MNFB can expand its capacity, Gerel believes, the organization and the services it offers can help blind people educate themselves, and find a place in the workforce. In order to expand the jobs available to them, however, blind people will need the confidence of the sighted, and that remains hard to obtain, even for someone with the qualifications and entrepreneurial spirit of Urtnasan. As she attempts to save enough to start her own massage centre, Urtnasan says people's perceptions, as much as any policy, need change before the blind can thrive in Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia at large.

Reprinted from the UB Post, February 19, 2009: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/

Blind Foreign Exchange Student Rarely Slows Down

Kristy Hyland is from Melbourne, Australia, but walks around the University of Florida campus at a New York City clip--a surprising pace, considering she is legally blind. "I like to get where I'm going," she said.

Going places seems to be a theme of Hyland's life. Before beginning at UF, she travelled around the United States--New York City, Los Angeles and Miami Beach--with only her dog. Keegan, a black Labrador, has been her guide dog for two and a half years. He responds to "voice, touch and ESP," according to Hyland.

The public relations major from Melbourne Royal Institute of Technology is one of a handful of international students who have a severe disability. In addition, she is believed to be the first legally blind exchange student at UF. "In eight years of working with incoming exchange students, I have never had any declared impaired students until this semester, with Kristy and another wheelchair-bound student from the Netherlands," said Lyn Straka, exchange program adviser at the UF International Center. "Kristy is unique in many ways and an inspiration to all of us."

Hyland is one of two legally blind students currently enrolled in "Leisure Services for People with Disabilities" in the College of Health and Human Performance. The class prepares students to work with the disabled through a curriculum that includes topics that range from nutrition to humour therapy, said Robert Beland, associate professor.

"We want all students to have an understanding of working with people with disabilities," Beland said. "Not because they are going to have jobs in this field specifically, but because people with disabilities are part of the fabric of our everyday lives."

On one particular day in the "Leisure Services for People with Disabilities" class, Keegan seemed to focus on the "leisure" aspect, choosing to nap on the carpeted floor. Hyland, however, rarely slows down. During the last several minutes of class, Professor Beland asked students to write down their favourite leisure activities.

The moment he gave the instruction, Hyland's fingers began flicking over the keys of her laptop to write down No. 1: Walking with the dog.

Reprinted from the University of Florida's website, http://news.ufl.edu, December 2, 2008.

Making a Lot of Scents; Pinkerton Student Chosen to Develop Perfume in France

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted courtesy of the Eagle-Tribune, MA, June 15, 2007.

Derry--Pinkerton Academy sophomore Stephanie O'Donnell will spend the next several days in France making perfume.

The 16-year-old from Derry, who is visually impaired, will join four other teens who are blind or have low vision for a perfume-making workshop at L'Occitane in Provence. The other teens are from New York, Maryland and Nevada.

The five students were chosen from a pool of about 60 who applied to the American Foundation for the Blind for the chance to attend the summer workshop for 14- to 16-year-olds.

All five leave tomorrow for Provence and will stay through Thursday, developing their own perfumes, along with bath and body products. They will also learn about the scents and aromatic plants of Provence--a region in southern France on the Mediterranean Sea.

O'Donnell, an honour roll student at Pinkerton, said she loves makeup and that her mom has to tear her away from the makeup and perfume aisles in stores. Her mother, Carol, is going to France with her.

"I like girlie things like that," O'Donnell said.

L'Occitane started the summer workshop in 1998 for French students with visual impairments, but later expanded it to include American students after partnering with the American Foundation for the Blind. The first trip for American students was in 2000.

The partnership began after the foundation awarded the body products manufacturer its Access Award in 2000 for putting braille on products, said Kelly Parisi, vice president of communications for the foundation.

Olivier Baussan, the company's founder, was inspired to create the workshop when he saw a blind woman smell his perfumes and wanted to help visually impaired teens explore their senses, according to the AFB.

While in Provence, O'Donnell's schedule is packed with meetings and classes with company representatives, including a perfumer, Parisi said. The teens learn about the chemical properties of plants, identify them by smell and touch, and make products in the classroom.

They also go to fields to identify more plants and flowers, and experience a lavender harvest, she added. In the factory, the students learn how to turn plants into essential oils.

O'Donnell is already thinking about the perfume she will make. So far, she's thinking of a vanilla raspberry perfume, and has received suggestions from classmates, such as incorporating the smell of rain. She will call her perfume "Oowee2U," which she said means "a hug to you." It comes from the sound she would make as a child when she hugged her mom, "oowee."

In addition to the chance to make perfume and see France, Parisi said it is also an opportunity for the students to interact with other teens who are blind or have low vision. For many, including O'Donnell, they go to mainstream schools and do not often interact with others who have vision impairments, she added.

O'Donnell said she was excited to apply because she thought it would be a good experience and a chance to visit France. She submitted her application in March and completed a telephone interview with a representative from the foundation.

In her essay, O'Donnell said she talked about her work as the manager of the junior varsity cheerleading squad at Pinkerton. She said she's met new people, made friends, and gained a new perspective on the sport. She plans to try out for cheerleading this fall.

Caitlin McFeely, communications coordinator for the foundation, said O'Donnell's work with the cheerleading squad was part of the reason she stood out among the other applicants. "She seemed like a strong and determined person," McFeely said.

O'Donnell lives in Derry with her mother, stepfather Joseph Guerin, and younger brother Christopher, 12.

L'Occitane pays for the flights and accommodations for the participants and their chaperones.

For more information about the American Foundation for the Blind or the summer workshop, visit: www.afb.org

Visually Impaired Teenager Disowned For Marrying a Dalit

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the Himalayan Times, Nepal, September 12, 2007.

Katmandu--The family of a visually impaired youth have disowned him for marrying a Dalit {someone belonging to the lowest social and ritual class} girl in Ilam district. Surya Sauden Limbu, of Ilam's Sulubung-7, married Sita Pariyar, of Soyang-6, also visually impaired, following their one-and-a-half-year-old affair.

When Surya informed his father about his marriage with Sita on August 26, his father disowned him. His father told him, "You are dead for us. We have already performed your last rites."

"We are not allowed to go home. We are living in a rented room," Surya Sauden said.

Surya and Sita met each other at a convention of the Nepal Association of the Visually Impaired two years ago.

"Since both of us know braille, we exchanged letters," Surya said.

"We wrote as many as 22 letters a month," said Sita.

Nineteen-year-old Surya is a student of Grade IX at Amar Higher Secondary School, while 18-year-old Sita studies in Grade V at Adarsha Lower Secondary School. They are willing to continue their studies.

Surya said he would continue to fight against caste discrimination. "We are working for a candlelight factory run by the Nepal Association of the Visually Impaired. We will not have a child until we become self-reliant," Surya said.

So, This Blind Guy Walks Into a Revolving Door...

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the Herald, Scotland, United Kingdom, October 19, 2007.

Picture: Ian Hamilton

My first challenge when staying at an unfamiliar hotel is, believe it or not, finding my way into the building. If the hotel has a revolving door, my guide dog, Moss, will see it as a hazard and refuse to move.

I'm standing there on the pavement wondering why he's not responding to my commands. It is only when a passer-by mutters something about a revolving door that I understand why the dog won't budge.

I now start to coax and eventually bribe him to step into the gap while the door is slowly spinning. Not easy for a dog to coordinate such a move.

In the past, I've resorted to picking the dog up and carrying him in. While listening carefully for the moving swish of the revolving door, I grab hold of the dog, and step cautiously into the gap.

Timing is crucial. So is a small dog. Unfortunately, I've got a five-stone {70 pounds} Labrador.

The door picks us up like a hurricane and flicks us into reception. Paws, luggage, bits of fur and I land in an undignified heap--what an entrance.

Anyway, I'm in, and the first challenge in this game has now been completed successfully.

The second challenge awaits. I'm in the reception area. Now to locate the desk.

You would think after making an impressive entrance like that, someone would notice. But no.

Listening carefully, I strain my ears for a clue. Perhaps someone will say: "Can I help you?" Nope.

Maybe a doorman will come over and point me in the correct direction. No!

Eventually, a phone rings in the distance. "Hello, Elvira speaking." Aha! Moss and I make our way towards the voice.

Elvira asks me for the registration number of my car. I'm standing there with my guide dog--I doubt that she has even glanced in my direction.

A porter takes me along endless corridors, two sets of lifts, and a rope swing, eventually ending up at my room.

The dog thinks the room is a park. I hope the carpet isn't green.

The second challenge has been completed. Now the third challenge. Getting into the room and finding my way about.

The porter opens the door with the plastic card, quickly points around the room and tries to leave. I force him to stay and explain every detail and layout of the room, which includes how to open the door.

I never know which way the card should go in. I've spent many an hour in hotel corridors trying every possible combination. Now I just get the receptionist to punch a small hole in one of the corners. This way, I know how the card should be inserted.

I find that I have been given the disabled room. I can understand why they do this. However, the facilities a blind person needs aren't the same as someone who is a wheelchair user.

The room is huge and it takes me literally 10 minutes to find the bed and a chair, and another 10 to find the window.

I hear the dog quietly snuffling about. He thinks it's a park. I hope it doesn't have a green carpet or we could have a spillage.

That reminds me--it's now time for my fourth challenge: Where is the bathroom?

After wandering around the bedroom and whistling loudly, I come across the sort of echo only ever heard in a cathedral or a bathroom. It was designed as a wet room, which is great, but it is so large it takes me a further 15 minutes before I collide with the toilet.

Now, unbeknown to me, there was a button at waist height just outside the bathroom door. It was to allow wheelchair users to open the front door from a distance.

I strip off in the main room and feel my way back to the bathroom. I have a great shower, but as I come out again I walk into that button, which activates the front door. Little did I know that as I dried myself, the extra-wide front door had very smoothly and silently opened, exposing my naked self to everyone going past.

It was only some days later when a colleague was pressing the button out of curiosity that I discovered what had been happening.

My penultimate challenge is to close the curtains, so that I don't expose myself to the whole city, as well as everyone in the hotel.

The room has electric-powered curtains, which are operated from the side of the bed. Very luxurious and practical for a wheelchair user.

However, the only way I can tell if the curtains are open or closed is to get up, make my way across the room and physically feel for myself. If the curtains were open, it would take another five minutes to find my bed again and activate the button and, of course, being completely paranoid now, I was never convinced that they worked, so I would have to get up and check for a second time.

At last, my sixth and final challenge: sleep.

I collapse into bed, exhausted, with the day's challenges whizzing round my head. I have to find a way of calming the mind to get to sleep.

Oh, no! I've got to find my way down to breakfast in the morning. I'd better get up now!

St.Lucia Gets Help From Cuba With State-of-The-Art Regional Eye Care Facility

Editor's Note: This press release is taken from www.CaribbeanPressReleases.com (Barbados) and is dated September 2, 2006.

Work Already Underway

Castries, 2 Sept., 2006--Prime Minister Dr. Kenny D. Anthony has confirmed that the Government of Cuba is assisting in the establishment of a state-of-the-art regional eye care facility in Saint Lucia.

The Prime Minister says plans are proceeding apace for the establishment of the ultra-modern regional ophthalmology centre in Saint Lucia, which will provide expert services to patients from neighbouring islands through the Miracle eye care project, Plan Milago.

Dr. Anthony says work is already under way at Victoria Hospital, where, with material and technical assistance from Cuba, the regional centre will be based. Cuba is also providing material assistance in the construction of the sub-regional eye care centre.

The Prime Minister told a rally of the ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), in the village of Laborie on Sunday, that when the centre is located here, "it will serve patients from Saint Lucia and other independent member states of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)."

As such, the centre will serve patients from Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Carricou and Petite Martinique, as well as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

"As a result of the location of the new centre here," the Prime Minister explained later, "unless they need rare or specialized eye care that must be provided in Cuba, Saint Lucians and other OECS citizens will no longer have to travel to Havana."

"All the eye care now provided in Havana," he said, "will now become available here when the centre is completed."

Prime Minister Anthony said the Cubans were assisting the Government and people of Saint Lucia "to improve our human resource capacity. At the same time," he continued, "it allows us the opportunity to reduce on the extent to which we would have to go to Cuba and stretch the generosity of the Cuban government and people."

Cuba's Ambassador to Saint Lucia, Hugo Ruiz Cabrera, agrees. He says, "The centre helps strengthen Saint Lucia's capacity to deliver the best service at home for the benefit of many countries."

Ambassador Cabrera said, "The centre will be furnished with the latest and most up-to-date medical equipment and will be staffed by the same Cuban doctors presently taking care of eye patients from these countries in Cuba."

He confirmed that Cuba "will also provide the medicines and assist with the medical and nursing staff for the modern centre."

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister says the location of the regional ophthalmology centre in Saint Lucia "is another manifestation of the selfless and valuable assistance that Cuba is providing to Saint Lucia and other Caribbean countries."

He pointed out that the Cuban medical team here "has examined over 10,000 Saint Lucians and over 1,000 have been treated in Cuba."

"And, apart from training doctors and dentists," he added, "they are also training 300 nurses, who will now each have the opportunity of extending their scholarships by two more years to graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in nursing."

Dr. Anthony, who recently visited Havana and held talks with Cuban President Fidel Castro on several issues of mutual concern to the two countries, also referred to the presence here of some 25 nurses from Cuba "who are here to assist in strengthening the capacity of our local delivery services at the island's main health institutions."

Cuba's assistance to Saint Lucia over the last 25 years has spanned several fields important for the development of the island's human resources.

Currently, over 400 Saint Lucians are studying various disciplines in Cuba, while over 200 graduates have returned home after being trained in several fields important to national development.

Altogether, there are thousands of students from the dozen English-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states pursuing various university studies in the Spanish language in Havana.

In the case of Latin America, the number of students pursuing similar courses is in the tens of thousands. But under the Plan Milago project, over 400 thousand persons from Latin America and the Caribbean have had their eyes cared for or sight restored--which is why those who were blind and can now see have named it "The Miracle Project."

Source: St. Lucia Government Information Service

Alpine Holiday

Editor's Note: Joyce Main lives in Toronto, Ontario, and has three children and four grandchildren. She is President of Guide Dog Users of Canada and actively lobbies for equality rights for persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, a little tired and eagerly anticipating a reunion with my daughter, Elsa, who had left Canada to work in Europe almost 20 years ago. After being escorted through customs and baggage area by a courteous Agent, I heard Elsa's voice calling me. I was introduced to her employer, Herr Kanel, and then we were on our way!

We stopped at a lovely park outside Zurich, where Raquel had a run and we enjoyed coffee and pastry. Herr Kanel and Elsa described the countryside as we drove through villages, towns and the city of Interlaken, just five miles from Bonigen, where Elsa lives. It is a typical Swiss village on Lake Bienz in the Interlaken-Jungfrau region, known throughout the world for its hospitality and skiing.

The two weeks that followed were wonderful! Every day before we walked by the lake, Elsa picked up her landlady's two dogs. Lake Brienz is calm and very beautiful, and Raquel and her companions swam in the lake and could even drink the water!

One Sunday we took the ferry around the lake. We had lunch onboard and stopped at the Geisback waterfalls, which are located higher in the Alps. Another day we took the cable car to the first plateau above the valley, enjoyed a Swiss meal at the restaurant and hiked the trails. On the way back to Bonigen, we hiked to an animal refuge located just above the village.

During the last week in September, cattle are brought down from the mountains and new cheese is made. I enjoyed a traditional meal with new friends and was given some cheese and gifts.

Everyone we met on our trip was friendly and helpful. They loved Raquel and were very well informed about guide dogs. My Guiding Eyes For the Blind Training Centre identification was accepted in lieu of fares on all public transit. Best of all, we were welcomed everywhere we travelled.

In Switzerland, the attitude towards blind persons is unique. We are tourists and paying guests--NOT STEREOTYPES. AND ISN'T THAT WHAT WE WANT--EVERYWHERE WE GO?

You can find out more about this beautiful country by visiting www.myswitzerland.com on the net. I recently sent one of AEBC's members some information about Bonigen, and I can give you specific information about the hotel and JungFrau region if you email me at: Raquel3@rogers.com

"Gruezi!" HAVE A WONDERFUL DAY!

Blind Aids Set For Public Housing Estates

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from www.News.gov.hk, Hong Kong, February 18, 2007.

Improvement works to make visually impaired public-housing tenants' lives easier will be completed by the end of 2008, Assistant Director of Housing (Estate Management) Bay Wong says.

The $100 million programme involves installing tactile warning strips, tactile guide paths and voice synthesizers in lift cars, and tactile marking and braille on all lift buttons, lock pads and letter boxes.

Mr. Wong said the department launched another $20 million programme in 2001 to create a barrier-free living environment for disabled and elderly tenants.

It provides improved facilities rendering barrier-free access for wheelchair-bound tenants such as ramps, handrails and dropped kerbs.

The works in 127 public-rental housing estates have already been completed and work in the remaining 33 estates will be finished by mid-2007.

Flat Alterations

"In public-rental housing estates with the largest number of elderly tenants aged 65 or above--Sau Mau Ping Estate, Pak Tin Estate and Choi Hung Estate--facilities and landscape improvements were designed to cater for the elderly.

"Benches, sports and recreational facilities such as foot massage paths and outdoor fitness equipment were also installed," Mr. Wong said.

Apart from the additional facilities in common areas, the department has also carried out flat alterations to meet elderly tenants' individual needs or advice of their therapists.

"On average, alteration works for more than 10 units in each public-rental housing estate are completed every year. These involve lowering door thresholds, replacing thresholds with ramps, widening toilet doors, improving toilet layouts and shower facilities, re-positioning toilets and electricity switches."

Travelling to China

Editor's Note: Alan Conway lives in Gatineau, Quebec, and works as a conference interpreter for the government of Canada.

Travelling to distant lands is something many would like to do, but few actually get the chance. I was fortunate to be able to take the trip of a lifetime in 1989, when my work as a conference interpreter took me to China. Since we don't always think of how we may be perceived by people in other countries when we're disabled, that aspect of the trip was especially interesting.

I noticed some of the first differences on the Air China flight from Hong Kong to Beijing. I might well have been travelling in economy class but it always seemed that there was someone standing there waiting to see if I needed anything. Of course, communication was difficult, and if one of my colleagues, who also speaks fluent Mandarin, hadn't told me what was going on, I might well have been unaware of the attention I was attracting.

When I arrived at the hotel, I couldn't get over the confusion. There seemed to be people everywhere talking very loudly and the whole process seemed terribly disorganized. When I went to sign in after registering, I took out my signature guide and signed as I usually would. The entire process was met by uproarious laughter from the staff behind the counter. I remember at the time not feeling all that upset; after all, these people had probably had very little contact with a blind person.

During the conference, I couldn't believe the feeling of admiration my presence apparently caused. Someone had been assigned to be with us to act as our interpreter in situations where we needed help and weren't working. As it turned out, one of our colleagues took care of things, but this man couldn't do enough for me. He even told me that, if there was anything I wanted to do in China while I was there, I should tell him and he would arrange it. When I asked about visiting a school for the blind, he promptly told me to consider the arrangements made. He was as good as his word.

The visit to the school was most interesting. In 1989, Chinese schools were generally underfunded, but the situation was a lot worse in this particular school for the blind. At the time, parents had to pay for their blind children's education and, although the amount would have been insignificant for us (about ten dollars per term), it certainly represented a hardship for many parents. The Director told me that he saw only a small number of the students who could potentially have attended his school.

Here again, I certainly had some interesting experiences. When we arrived at the school, a lady came rushing out to help us. She didn't really know how to guide properly, so she stood behind me and tried to do so by pushing against my arm and trying to lift me.

When we finally got to the place where she wanted me to meet the Director, she began backing me towards the chair where I was to sit. My colleague, who wanted to come with me to the school, told me to kick my legs out from under me when he gave the word. It was the only thing to do, since I was being forced to back up and wouldn't be able to locate the chair. Of course, the chair was designed for someone quite a bit shorter than I, so I ended up sitting down very hard and certainly most ungracefully. As if that weren't enough, the lady was told that I was to be taken somewhere else after all that, so we began the process all over again.

The work of Dr. Norman Bethune, a Canadian who provided medical care to the communists during the revolution that ultimately brought them to power, has given Canada a wonderful reputation in China as a people. When I entered classrooms, teachers told their students that I was from the land of Norman Bethune and the children seemed particularly interested.

I'm uncertain that I would have liked to study there, but the school did a good job in training its students for traditional jobs as masseurs and for other types of manual work. AT the time, adaptive technology was almost nonexistent and, from what the director told me, higher education was unheard of. He was therefore very impressed by my own level of education.

He told me that blind people in China don't use white canes, and if they work it is their work units that look after everything. Losing a job is therefore something not to be taken lightly.

China certainly wasn't the kind of place where a blind person could travel very independently. The fact is that I was able to benefit a lot from the trip thanks to Jean Duval, a colleague who had learned Mandarin at the age of 14. He took us everywhere and even managed to negotiate some reduced prices. He actually told someone in a restaurant that we were socialist brothers from the former Soviet Union. Since the people he was speaking to didn't know English, they took his word for it and the price of our meals was promptly cut in half!

He also made sure we had plenty of unforgettable experiences to go along with all the hard work. The last Saturday we spent was marked by a meal in a typical Mongolian restaurant. The lady who owned it came up to each of us and gave us a glass of fermented mare's milk. She sang us each a song and when she was finished, we had to drink it down all at once. It was very smooth, but I certainly remember how fast it went to my head.

On balance, although I noticed that people often displayed considerable admiration toward me as a blind person, it was all too obvious that our view of an independent lifestyle in such a country would be very difficult to reconcile. Perhaps an analysis of Chinese attitudes to people who are blind is inappropriate here given the length of time that has passed since my trip, but I would describe the attitudes of the time as a real mixed bag. On the one hand, there seems little doubt that people admire the success of people with disabilities, but to say that they had anything like equal opportunity in China at the time would be in appropriate. I haven't had an overseas trip since 1989, but this one will certainly rank among the most interesting I have ever taken.

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