Last week, I spent six days maneuvering a maze of white sticks tapping, dogs barking, and people leading and being lead to new connections and inspiring speeches. I’m talking about the convention of the National Federation for the Blind, an event and a community of equality, beauty and no presumptions, one where we can all just be ourselves. It is these same presumptions that keep us from having those rights outside of federation walls, out in a world of fears.
Between opportunities to get my hands on talking, magnifying wizards to make my life easier and visualizing magnificent works through tactile art, I got to hear from blind people who have defied the odds and become true change makers. They shut down and refuse to accept stereotypes that say people without eyesight can’t have vision, can’t have employable talents. They refuse to let the statistic that says 70% of blind people are unemployed, and face their fears about acceptance and independence that is around every corner in the social and core prate world we live in.
These thought-provoking speakers do not think of themselves as blind, but as proud parents sporting busy teenage advocates, as lawyers helping to make life accessible and business dreams possible, as technology leaders making accessibility a standard for everyone to enjoy. These are people showing how to conquer fears, to show how vision loss is just the beginning to a new life awakened, a new sensual experience and awareness of the world.
In his provoking speech that capped off our powerful week, President Riccobono said that fears are the result of one incident gone wrong, or one stereotype proven true by a single observation. The incident is allowed to fester, fed by rumors, until it becomes an unconscious point of anxiety. One spider in a room probably isn’t going to kill you, but a person with an intense fear of spiders will see that creature as a room full of them, an inescapable trap of crawling feet. But if that person can be made to step back and see it as just one spider, lost and looking for food and not to do any danger, they can gradually grow out of that fear. The only way to overcome it is to make conscious decisions to engage in the things you believe to have done you wrong, one bit at a time.
Although blindness- and its more painful causes and complications- is not something I would wish on anyone, it is not something to be faired or used to wield superiority. Inside, most of us have good-intentioned, inspirational souls. We keep clean houses, fill rooms with the unctuous scent of delicious meals we cook us, and seek friendships and employment for our ability to access technology and the world in our own unique ways. Blindness is not the end; it is just the beginning to better meaning, heightened touch, listening, storytelling, and feeling. It is just the start of helping us all achieve our dreams and live, as we want.
So I invite you to conquer your fears, to reach out a gentle hand, not to cradle a blind person or do the work for us, but to guide and be guided towards new possibilities.