Give young, blind Canadians a chance to shine

Saanich-based advocate for the blind argues for giving training to young people

Does a wheelchair user know what his chair is for? Obviously yes. Does an amputee know he needs a prosthesis? Obviously yes. So blind people also know what’s best for them, right?

Wrong, according to the B.C. government.

Why else would the Liberals insult knowledgeable blind advocates by disregarding what they suggest is needed for motivated blind people? No need to reinvent the wheel, they seem to say. But what wheel is that? The wheel of social dependency, fear of blindness and incapacity?

A young blind woman sits in her family home in Victoria because she was never given the tools, the attitudes and the encouragement to succeed. There she remains because our elected officials feel they have no responsibility to give her the optimum training and abilities to succeed. They don’t believe in her, any more than they believe in the capacities of the blind experts.

Why? With negative attitudes about blindness how can she possibly succeed?

While the service is not yet available in Canada, three excellent comprehensive training centres for the blind exist in the United States. With a curriculum featuring intensive positive attitude training about blindness, mobility, independent living and life skills, they are available free to Americans through federal and state subsidies.

American students stay between six and nine months at these residential facilities and have a far better chance of living a productive and independent life.

Not that long ago, two very capable and successful blind citizens with years of personal and leadership experience for blind people spoke with three Liberal government MLAs to make a modest request.

A mere $36,000 is all it would cost to send the aforementioned woman for training to help change her life, but these MLAs refuse to acknowledge the need, despite the fact it would enhance her ability to be a productive, contributing citizen.

Removing the burden of dependence should be a priority.

Norm Letnick, one of those MLAs, did not dismiss the request, but did the usual political manoeuvre and created a diversion. Like reinventing the wheel, he suggested yet another study to justify what these blind people and most others already know.

The Minister for Social Development and Social Innovation, Don McRae, is at present engaged in consultation with people with disabilities.

McRae appears to have a disconnect with his fellow MLAs, or do they somehow fail to view blindness as a worthy “disability?” How genuine is the minister if these well-informed blind advocates are disregarded and given the brush-off?

Various young disabled citizens, including blind people, need to undergo specific comprehensive training to help prepare them to function effectively.

In Canada, paraplegics and others with similar conditions are given thousands of dollars in training to prepare them to live in a wheelchair. But in Canada, when you are blind, our society still considers us as incapable and worthless charity cases.

All we’re asking is for government to give young, blind, motivated Canadians a chance to become independent, contributing and respected members of society. Barriers for blind Canadians are social, not physical. Surely, Minister McRae, blind citizens should be given the chance to succeed and rise from second-class citizenship to full contributing Canadians.

Let’s show some leadership in giving all disabled people a chance, but especially, let’s change what it means to be blind in British Columbia.

Graeme McCreath is a physiotherapist, author and social change activist who lives in Saanich. He is blind.