By David W. Wannop
I have been pondering a conundrum for quite a while. It deals with our impact as blind people on the national conversation of the United States and beyond. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, approximately 24 million of our 315,000,000 citizens are blind or visually impaired. That puts us somewhere around seven to eight percent of the total national population. Our numbers include all sectarian, racial, ethnic, and cultural groups, all regions, and all of our states and territories. If these numbers are accurate, you should be meeting one blind person for every two Black Americans you meet. You should be meeting a blind person for every foreign born person. You should be meeting more blind people than Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, United Methodists, and you should be meeting more blind people than LBGTQ people. In my wanderings in many metropolitan locales, I can tell you I almost never encounter another blind person. I even live two and a half blocks from a blindness center and library, and I rarely meet any blind people.
Part of this problem may be due to the nature of our communications. Although the blind supposedly have a large demographic, we are not generally covered by the media in the manner and frequency of other interest groups. We are either misrepresented by often well-meaning but uninformed sighted reporters, or we are seen as too far out of the mainstream to be reported about at all.
Most blind communications workers see themselves as independent agents trying to file stories, writing inquiry letters, contacting editors, and proposing ideas for publication. However, it could be that what we need is a more collective sense as to what a publishing house, web site, internet broadcaster, or newsroom should entail. Many years ago, respected members of the Black Community and women’s organizations worked to diversify such environs so that their voices could be heard. They realized that the public could get two messages from having Black and female presenters; a more informed knowledge of how public and corporate policies affect large segments of the citizenry, plus, the knowledge that minorities are also affected by the same concerns everyone else has qua economic security, good schools, weather, traffic and so forth.
Advocacy eventually caused the inclusion we are used to today. The problem is that not everyone was considered for inclusion. But, direct pressure on major media outlets and their federal regulators was not the only card advocates played. They also created a vibrant alternative newspaper, magazine, and broadcast situation that allowed new voices to be heard and gave crucial training to communication workers. Although we have radio reading services for the blind, these stations have limited ability to train and staff blind workers for they are on a mission to present materials unavailable readily to blind people. They do not fit the definition of mainstream nor alternative. Functional is a better term for such stations. We have the Braille Forum and Braille Monitor, but these magazines do not report information outside of their organizational mandate.
And so, the question remains; how can we advance the careers and community goals of blind people in and through the media? Do we form a blind journalist organization? Do we monitor reporting on our community and seek redress for inaccuracy? Do we contact the Federal Communications Commission? Do we ask editors of progressive reportage why they do not cover our issues nor hire are contributors? Do we start a petition drive? Do we assert all of these methods, some of these methods, or none of these methods? I am genuinely interested in any informed opinion upon this matter. Another question to ponder is this; if our blind communication workers do become more visible in the mainstream media, will it encourage other blind people to be more visible and integrated in their own communities, thus making it more likely that you will meet blind people more often and in more places? Peace, and May all be well with you.
David W. Wannop is a journalist who has been syndicated. He reported on the Philadelphia, national, and world music scenes for nearly two decades. He is also a talent developer, stage manager, and publicist.