Tue 12 Apr 2005
The name “Tri County Association for the Blind” makes it pretty clear what most of the impairments people working there are subject to. However, there were those workers I met that had disabilities other than blindness. Those who were blind did have interesting perspectives on life though. It was the first time I really talked with and connected with blind people and it intrigued me to learn how vastly different their outlooks and experiences can be. Those who are born blind have very different perspectives on life and attitudes towards daily tasks and seeing people than those who lost their sight later in life. Those who could once see taught me that they may be the hardest thing for them about being blind—the having sight and knowing life with it and then having it taken away and basically re-learn how to live their everyday lives and be told they can no longer do ordinary tasks they were used to. Those workers who were not blind had mental impairments of various sorts, I now understand from interacting with them that even though a person has a mental disability that does not mean it affects their whole life. Some people just need more time to accomplish tasks and others just take a while longer to grasp what I see as normal concepts. Overall, each person with a disability taught me something new and gave me a new understanding of their situation.
The main benefit of the Tri County Association for the Blind is providing work for those who have a difficulty time of becoming employed. Many of the employees expressed to me the hardship one with a disability encounters when searching the job market. Tri County also benefits many who are not employed there. Part of their services are sending newsletters and information to those with seeing impairments, they manufacture pens to be sent to prisons and government agencies, and their work also benefits the airlines whom they package food for.
I am not sure what kind of real impact I had on anyone through my work at Tri County. Basically with the employees I just tried to listen and understand their individual stories, while trying to picture everything from their perspective. I hope that through our conversations they learned that not all people look at those with disabilities as being disabled in all aspects because they are disabled in one way. I hope they also learned that I agree with them that being put in low class, low paying jobs is not fair simply because you cannot see. As for the people who make use of the Tri County I do not think my personal work affected them too greatly, sure I provided a few more pens, or helped get their newsletters out a little more quickly, but other than that I did not impact them at all, and if it hadn’t been me doing the extra little jobs and helping out the employees it just would have been someone else.
In “normative” society, many of the employees of the Tri County Association for the Blind expressed feelings, to me, that they do not feel accepted. As one employee said to me, “people think just because I can’t see I’m disabled mentally also.” They feel as though they are seen by “normal” people as completely disabled, even if the only thing impaired about them is their eye sight. They feel they are subject to only low end jobs with low end income and never have equal opportunities that are offered to the “norms” of society. Many of the workers expressed their feelings of being made to seem inferior by most people in society and they often times feel like they are treated like children. Also, they are unable to travel in “normal” society with out aid of public transport or other people’s assistance. It is made so that they can only read where brail is posted and they are unable to lead what most people have constructed to be “normal lives” everything takes more effort for the employees at Tri County.
My experience volunteering at Tri County connects to all we have read and talked about in class in many ways. I was able to experience first hand how those with disabilities view themselves and how they see themselves viewed by others in everyday life. It is clear that those in “normative” society want to keep themselves separate from those with disabilities, no matter what the disability is, thus, these people are pushed into low wage, low interest jobs. It has become clear to me through this process that the people I was able to meet and interact with truly are viewed only by their disabilities by most people in society. They are seen as “blind” or “mentally retarded” and no other attribute or characteristic matters, they are their disability to most who see them. It is sad and frustrating to see that most of these people have no real identity to the outside world and that most believe the work these people are engaging in is the best they can do and they should be happy to be employed at all. When in reality, many of them could accomplish more stimulating work, but they are not afforded the opportunity simply because of their disability.