A good look by Trevor Plumbly
Historically, the attitude towards ‘blindies’ in the 19th Century left a lot to be desired. We managed the odd mention in literature as interesting background characters, excluded from the central plot, but in life were largely regarded as charity cases, except, of course, for those shielded by wealth.
Academically, then, as now, there seemed to be no shortage of scientific papers on causes and effects, but most lapse into a terminology that render them practically useless as a point of reference to those of us experiencing sight loss on a first hand basis.
The 20th Century did bring some change: foundations were established, backed by charitable funding, ‘blind workshops’ were created, but sadly these focused more on manual dexterity than mental capacity.
It’s hard to gauge just when the paternalism started to fade and we gained influence on the processes that contributed to our well-being. Certainly the cell-phone filled a huge void in our ability to communicate, the Internet gave us a world we could be part of without risk, or assistance. Now, unlike our Victorian counterparts, we can insist on equal treatment in education, employment and social status.
As the warnings continue of the potential harm the overuse of smartphones and tablets can cause children, unpalatable as it seems, we are equally vulnerable to the problems that could arise from dependency on AI. It’s understandable that the Blind Foundation here in New Zealand regards these things as a major key to our self-reliance. They are, of course, useful tools, but although they present a welcome challenge for some, for others the risk of self-induced isolation from frustration and a sense of inadequacy are very real. So the question for us and the Foundation should be, ‘How to reach a balance? The answer lies in human interaction. The Foundation needs to provide a ‘gateway’ training programme to enable all staff members to guide clients through the initial barriers. It’s a simple concept that doesn’t require extensive committees to succeed, just the willingness of staff and members to acknowledge that for those facing obstacles in life, human contact is a vital part of coping. We don’t need paternalism any more, or a barrage of electronic corporate-speak, our real needs centre round guidance, acceptance and personal involvement. Sadly you don’t get those from pressing buttons.