"If you look sloppy, it's not you they blame, but me!" That's what my wife always maintains if I couldn't care less whether my socks are light or dark, or there is a button missing on my shirt or I forgot to put a clean handkerchief into my pocket. She's right of course and we, the blind in particular -- and to a lesser extent the partially sighted too -- had better realize this phenomenon even if it is completely unjustified.
I remember a slogan on the American Forces Radio and Television Service long ago, proclaiming: "What people think of your country, depends on you!" In our case, we might use a variation of that idea: "what people think of our relatives, depends on us". Public opinion always generalizes and generalizations are stronger and more unjustified the smaller the minority they direct themselves upon.
I couldn't help being reminded of this fact, when once again, for the umpteenth time I read that one of the tasks of rehabilitation workers is to teach the blind and visually impaired acceptable social behavior. I wondered, if perhaps I too had to be taught acceptable social behavior? But then, I concluded, I do not poke my fingers into my eyes, nor into my nose, though at times I do poke them into my ears! So what's all the fuss about? I don't eat with my bare fingers, except sandwiches and I don't lick my plate, though there are moments I would love to, especially after eating a fried egg, sunny side up! I don't belch in public either, not even privately, if I can avoid it and I dress reasonably well, though that's not my own fault; my wife sees to that and even when she didn't I used to dress reasonably well. I have made a habit of shaving first thing in the morning because I think it is offensive to show yourself unshaven, same as I hold it as an insult if a woman goes about in public with her hair full of curlers! I wonder how many of our rehab workers (mostly females) indulge in that sort of unacceptable social behavior...
What is "acceptable social behavior" and why does it have to be taught to visually handicapped rehabilitation clients? Or rather, aren't we confirming negative attitudes towards the visually handicapped, if we bluntly state that teaching "acceptable social behavior" is one of the tasks of a rehab worker? There is a great difference between distinct groups of visually handicapped persons, as I tried to explain in my article "Are you blind or blind" It is perfectly true, that the congenitally blind have to be taught every form of what might be called "acceptable social behavior", but that is not the task of rehabilitation field workers, but of the children's parents and the schools and institutions where they are educated. If, on leaving such schools, they still do not display "acceptable social behavior" there is something utterly wrong with those institutions.
Let's face it: there is indeed something utterly wrong with a lot of institutions, not only in our region. A couple of years ago I received a letter from an organization of blind people in North America (never mind which one). It contained at least five typographical errors in each line! Another letter, from a blind worker at a rehab center, also in the U.S. was virtually unreadable, because apparently this man's typewriter hadn't been cleaned for years! And from Europe I once received a package from an institution selling aids and appliances for the blind, with seven typing errors in my address alone! I wrote an angry letter to the director of that institution asking him if this was the way they wanted to promote employment for the visually handicapped.
The truth is, that education and rehabilitation must be geared towards offering the visually handicapped client the opportunity of behaving just as independently as a well sighted person, in so far as that is possible. He must be able to choose for himself and if he wants to choose in favor of being a sloppy, or anti-social person, that's his own good right, as far as I am concerned. But if he wants to be an active, productive member of society (which is not in contradiction to being sloppy, of course), he must develop the skills needed for that goal and develop them well! That's where both education and rehabilitation quite often fail.
Again, let me assure you, that this is not a phenomenon of our region alone. In 1980 I attended the Helen Keller Centennial Congress in Boston and I remember one speaker complaining about the fact that at some schools and rehab centers, they trained blind people to become switchboard operators on... completely obsolete switchboards! That was only one example she gave and it referred to the United States. Skills must be true skills; social behavior is not just eating with knife and fork instead of with your fingers. If you want friends and relations, you must have something to offer and not be demanding and complaining. If you want a job, you have to be skilled for doing it well. If you have something to offer an employer, instead of begging employment of him, you stand a good chance. No one is accepted as a typist* if he makes a lot of errors, not even a well sighted one, who can correct the errors, because there is also something called efficiency and accuracy.
If we are talking about teaching our clients acceptable social behavior we had better first ask ourselves if we are not making a generalized statement that has a definite negative effect because of its indiscriminate nature. Secondly, a concept like that should be viewed in a much wider perspective than we are used to view it.