Just as I was finishing my post for today, I got an email from the Disability Group at the White House. I subscribe for news updates so that I know when the White House is planning to do nice things for disabled constituents. The email was declaring today “Blind Americans Equality Day” replacing the original “White Cane Safety Day.”
There’s something neat about having a day of equality for people with my disability. A moment of recognition for the fact that visually impaired people actually do make an impact on society – rather than a day about being “aware” of the tool many of us use to be mobile. Giving us credit for things we do, rather than telling people to be cautious of us based on something we carry. The idea of “White Cane Safety Day” is a little like “Wheelchair Safety Day”, so the change in tone makes everything feel more like credit where credit is due, rather than asking everyone to worry about how we get around.
But what kind of contributions have blind Americans made to our society? Let’s take a tour…
Helen Keller – was a brilliant political analyst and a socialist. Her contributions to feminist and socialist literature are incredibly important. She was also the first deaf/blind woman to graduate from college!
Harriet Tubman – damage to her skull by a violent slave owner resulted in vision loss, but Tubman still escaped slavery and worked on the Underground Railroad.
Maria Runyan – is a blind marathon runner. You may have seen her in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she placed eighth in the 1,500-meter, making Runyan the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Games and the highest finish by an American woman in that event. She also ran in the 2002 New York Marathon and finished as the top American in the race.
Ray Charles – While I’m trying to focus on women, Ray Charles’ music is something which I love. His music has the power to pull everyone onto the dance floor, to make people cry, to make people laugh.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt – The most popular American President in history was not only visually impaired, but also was the only president to ever use a wheelchair exclusively. He led the country through World War II, created the New Deal, and invited the country to join him on radio broadcasted “Fireside Chats”which my grandparents still talk about to this day.
Blind Americans have done a lot. They’ve made music, they’ve held athletic records, they’ve rallied feminist causes and saved slaves from their masters – they’ve even led the so called “Free World” through a vicious war.
So if you see a blind person on the street today, offer to walk them across the street (without touching!) and don’t get pissed off if they decline politely.