American Association of Blind Teachers

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John Buckley

I was passing through the living room of our home as our eight-year-old was watching television. I casually asked if the program was good. Without taking her eyes from the screen, she said, "Yeah, it's Mr. McGoo."

As you may remember, Mr. McGoo is an extremely "nearsighted" cartoon character who mistakenly wanders into places and situations where his inability to see is a cause for comedy. As I stopped to listen, McGoo was holding an animated conversation with a telephone pole. I said, "I know people like that. Heck, I've even talked to a few telephone poles myself."

"I know it's not very nice," she said, as she temporarily stirred from her television trance, "but it's funny."

I was forced to consider why this child, who had been raised in my house, attended more than one ACB convention, knows and likes a significant number of my blind friends, and is normally quite sensitive, found this character humorous. In an age when similar programming about other minorities would not be tolerated, why was disability such an obvious exception? Why was the station (WTBS) not inundated with complaints, as it undoubtedly would have been for airing equally crude racial or sexual stereotypes?

The public reaction, including my daughter's, would have been very different, of course, if McGoo were totally blind. Few would have found a character with a cane or dog talking to a telephone pole to be humorous. The comedy is rooted more in ignorance than insensitivity.

McGoo is not blind; he is "near-sighted." The middle ground of partial vision, which we all recognize and understand, is a distinction lost on a large majority of the general public. The sighted-blind dichotomy, unfortunately, has some very profound implications. A significant number of the teachers who contact AABT for help are caught in this oversimplification. I will cite only two recent examples. The first, a new graduate with high partial vision from a teacher's college was denied a position when her impairment prevented her from completing employment tests in the allotted time. School authorities felt she did not deserve any special consideration and refused to apply the relevant provisions of state and federal legislation.

Second, a community college instructor with a number of years of service and a strong recommendation from her colleagues was turned down for promotion to full professor. In this case, a principle problem was that the chair of her department had recently lost some vision due to ageing and assumed that, since her minimal loss of vision had resulted in greatly diminished effectiveness, the colleague applying for tenure would, naturally, be even more profoundly limited. In both cases, though the vision loss fell well within the legal and medical definitions for blindness, neither individual needed or used braille, cane, dog or any of the other easily recognizable trappings of blindness.

It is probable that for most of you there is little new in what I have said here. However, it is, judging from the number of complains referred to AABT, worth reiterating. Where the totally blind need to convince the public that they can do more than is anticipated, the partially sighted need to convince the public that they may need to do differently, what is expected. Both problems can be substantial, but it is important that in focusing on our own unique challenge, we do not ignore or minimize the difficulties confronted by our peers.

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