High up on the list of priorities of agencies working for the advancement of the blind and visually impaired, stands the word outreach; an intriguing word, of which the semantic meaning overshadows its practical application. So strong is the semantic appeal of it, that few of us recognize that there are many pitfalls in it, such as:

    Outreach is considered extremely important; the requisites for executing a programme of outreach are considered to be negligible. Isn't that a rather contradictory approach, which we cannot only observe in our own region, but even in the so-called highly developed countries? One only has to cast a cursory glance at brochures, flyers, annual reports and the like to get the strong impression, that ours is a world of amateurs, at least in the field of outreach! Any worker for the visually handicapped, and especially any blind person is, so it seems, by virtue of his or her job or his or her handicap, qualified as an expert in outreach. The result is, usually a sort of circus performance in which the blind beast shows off how well he was trained and the tamer proves his dare-devilish skills in performing the seemingly impossible...

    I'm sorry if that sounds very harsh, but I'm convinced that we ought to sit down and discuss a few basic questions if we want to achieve the objectives that we have set out for ourselves. The first one is the question why.


    Let's put it bluntly again: the visually handicapped are a very conspicuous group of human beings, especially the totally blind amongst them, even though, in most countries they are a small minority of the population. The mere fact that they are a small minority and that they are so conspicuous, changes them from human subjects into weird objects. We do not speak about "a man who is blind" but about a "blind man" blindness is his primary asset , not being a human being. Unfortunately many a blind person confirms this popular attitude by trying to demonstrate at all cost, how clever he is, in spite of his blindness. That brings us to two important fields where outreach is a dire necessity:

     We shall call these the primary objectives of outreach so that we are left with the question whether there may also be secondary ones? There are of course, but we have to be careful about them, for two main reasons:

     The first secondary objective of outreach is the urgent need most of us have: money ! The greatest danger in our fund-raising drives is that they confirm public attitudes; after all, the easiest way to get people to open up their wallets is by appealing to their sense of benevolence towards the less privileged. It is so much more difficult to persuade people that they should be partners in a common struggle for a better society. Yet, this latter motivation should be the motivation.

     The other secondary objective of outreach is of course sight preservation. However, as I said in another article: too much emphasis on this subject entails the risk of getting mixed up in the primary goals of agencies engaged in service delivery to the visually handicapped. Moreover, one of the side effects of sight preservation programmes usually is that impaired vision and certainly blindness are depicted as one of the curses of mankind, thereby once again, unwillingly, confirming negative public attitudes towards the blind and visually impaired. This aspect of sight preservation programmes is generally overlooked.

     In other words: outreach is a necessity, but it needs to be approached with great care and that is where my main point comes up: the questions when, where and how? The last one deserves our attention first and since we want to keep this article as concise as possible, the others shall have to wait for some other opportunity. That does not mean that they are less important.


    Being blind is no warranty for good advocacy on behalf of the blind and visually impaired; in the same way, being an expert worker in the service delivery section of agencies for the visually handicapped does not automatically imply expertise in the field of outreach. Outreach is a matter of informing an audience in such a way, that the information is persuasive to the extent of changing insight or, perhaps, rather of implanting insight in the audience. (the word audience is being used in its widest possible sense).To achieve just that, requires a special discipline of insight in the psychological approach of an audience and of knowledge of the practical techniques, necessary to address an audience. We all ought to be aware of the fact, that that kind of discipline is not inherent in expertise in another field.

     The art of speaking and the art of writing are the art of persuading. Arts are certainly not exempt from innate talents, but innate talents will seldom develop into arts if they are not thoroughly cultivated and trained. Our excuse is of course, that we lack both the human and financial resources to hire experts in the field of outreach. That this is indeed an excuse, is demonstrated by the fact that in those places where they do not lack the funds, the general picture is not much different from ours, so that it is really a matter of wanting to do it ourselves. That would be less of a problem if we realized ourselves that we cannot possibly do a good job, without having had the necessary training for it. We all take a very strong stand on this point, when it comes to our own profession, such as: social work, rehabilitation, teaching, administration and other professional skills, but when it comes to outreach the field is free for all amateurs to try their luck. The reason is simple: outreach not only offers an opportunity to inform but also to perform and that is where we end up in the circus of self promotion. One only needs to take a quick glance at politicians, to know what kind of ambiguous information that leads to.


     When we have to address an audience, the temptation is always there to show off. I do not think anybody is completely free from that bias. Yet, our goal must be to inform the audience, not to impress it and yet, again, at the same time if we want to persuade the audience, we shall have to impress it. That sounds contradictory but it is a matter of not mixing up goals and means.

     "Oh, he spoke so beautifully!" someone exclaimed on leaving the church one Sunday morning. I, for one had sat through the sermon in increasing irritation as it consisted of nothing but one long string of so-called "beautiful words" which contained no message at all. apparently, empty phrases appeal to a lot of people, especially to public speakers themselves (!), but they certainly do not achieve any goal.

     Within the limited context of this article, it is impossible to present an in-depth discussion of all aspects of public speaking. The only thing we can do is to sum up the most important points that we have to keep in mind when preparing an outreach programme, such as:


    The primary prerequisite for writing is good command of the language one writes in; of its vocabulary, its grammatical structure, its idiomatic diversities, its style forms. If in a public address, poor grammar may be acceptable as part of using the "local lingo" in writing, there is no excuse for it, except in fiction writing where a local environment has to be portrayed. Even then, the authors using such creolized English have made a profound study of it and have an excellent command of the creolized grammatical structure.

     However, fiction is not our concern; our goal is, to get information across to people, in one form or another. Once again, within the context of this article I can hardly be expected to offer a complete course on how to write. Moreover, in our agencies, we are faced with a number of different forms of writing, each of them with their own specific requirements. They are: 1. correspondence; 2. minutes; 3. reports; 4. fliers; 5. brochures; 6. press releases; 7. newspaper and magazine articles.

     Each of these subjects really needs separate treatment, so, in this article we shall have to limit ourselves to a few brief hints to give you a general indication, in what direction the art of writing should be developed. There are of course numerous books available that can help you to advance your writing skills in any of the fields mentioned above.

     Although agency correspondence and external reports, certainly have a strong aspect of outreach, or at least, of public relations to them we shall not discuss them in this article (same as minutes) and limit ourselves to those matters that are directly related to outreach.


    Have I succeeded in persuading you? If not altogether, at least partially? If not, this was not a good article.

First published in Caribbean Vision April 1987