By Sandra Sermons
Editor’s note: This post is in response to the blog titled “Does Our Advocacy Work Relate to What Dr. King Stood for?”
By far, one of the most significant movements in the United States’ history has been the Civil Rights Movement. While many groups have patterned their struggle for full equality on the Civil Rights Movement, there are some stark differences that we should all keep in mind.
The reality is that people who are blind or have low vision have often been treated like second-class citizens. Often, we do not have the same level of access as everyone else. There is not enough good Braille instruction, accessible voting machines do not function properly, and time and time again, we are passed up for promotions. Not because we are incapable, but because the technology simply is not there, or supervisors have such low expectations of us that we are not even considered. We are also continually faced with a growing number of freestanding kiosks, without a chance of being able to use them independently. To make matters worse, companies are hiring fewer employees, so the ability to ask a staff member has, in many instances, been hampered as well.
However, no harm has ever befallen us simply because we happen to have a disability. That cannot be said for African Americans. African Americans were shackled, transported to distant lands, and sold to the highest bidder like cattle, simply because of the color of their skin. They were even lynched for any suspicion of looking at a white woman too hard. In my experience, I have never heard of an account of someone being lynched because they were blind. As people who are blind or have low vision, no physical harm has ever come to us while trying to vote, even if we were unsuccessful. Fire hoses have never been turned on us and dogs have never attacked us. Rather, our furry four-legged friends are our guides.
What does all this mean? Misinformation, whether intentional or not, it is still fiction. In no way, shape, or form can the civil rights struggle be equated to the disability rights movement. I believe that public discourse is critical to establishing understanding based on unapologetic truth, not an abbreviated, sanitized version thereof. So, while the two struggles may contain some common threads, the tapestries that are being woven are very different.