On Blindness

by Arthur A. Schreiber

Braille Monitor

November, 2001

From the Editor: The following article is reprinted with permission. It first appeared in the May, 2001, issue of Prime Time, a publication for seniors in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Art spent a lively career inradio and now serves as President of the NFB of New Mexico. We have modified the text only by removing local telephone numbers, which would not be helpful in a national publication. Both Art’s advice and attitude, however, are universally healthy and accurate. This is what he says:

I’m often asked what I miss most since I became blind nearly twenty years ago. My answer comes quickly and succinctly: driving and reading—in that order. There’s adaptive technology available today which allows the blind to read. There’s no adaptive technology available to enable us to drive an automobile. Ah, yes, I get kidded about driving. Many times, while helping a friend into a car, someone, spotting my white cane, will yell, “You’re not going to drive, are you?”

I generally reply, “No, I use a longer cane when I drive.”

I’m well aware that too many older persons are behind the wheels of their cars, and they shouldn’t be. And there are visually impaired younger persons who shouldn’t be driving either. I know, everyone loves to be independent. Visually impaired individuals who are still driving should turn in their keys to their ol’ jalopy, or their new jalopy, for that matter.

I still enjoy cars, and I fantasize about driving, driving on the freeways, around town, and cross-country.

 Recently I visited my son Mark in Birmingham, Alabama. He met me at the airport, and we soon were in his bright red sports car that has so much power one’s head snaps backward when he zooms off. In the pinhole vision in one eye that I have left, I spotted the white line on the road. I told Mark there are times I believe I could drive. He asked, “Dad, how many cars are in front and beside us?” I laughed and admitted I couldn’t tell. So much for my fantasy.

Here’s my advice to those whose vision is too low to drive a car safely. If you want to maintain your independence, find new ways to get around. First, get around your neighborhood by learning to use a white cane. The National Federation of the Blind, Christine Hall (President of the NFB’s Senior Division), or the New Mexico Commission for the Blind can help you with this alternative technique.

However, there’s no alternative technique for driving a car. We can call a cab. It’s expensive, but not compared to having an accident trying to drive when we can’t see. We can learn to ride the bus. It’s easier than you think, once you learn cane travel. City bus drivers are trained to assist visually impaired persons to find their destination. Call your bus company to find out if there is a bus route near you that can take you to places you want to go.

One of the most difficult things to learn is to ask for help. My experience is that people want to help, and most enjoy being asked. If someone gives me a ride frequently, I buy the gas.

But, boomers and seniors, listen closely: the adult blind population will double in the next fifteen years. We’re living longer and seeing less. So remember our needs the next time you vote. We need, and deserve, a better transportation system. We need, and deserve, Medicare to pay for blind skills training. After all, if you break a hip, Medicare will pay for you to learn to walk again.

 Seniors who are visually impaired need to get out of their cars and march. March toward a better tomorrow by electing city councilors and state and federal legislators who understand (or are willing to learn about) the special circumstances of the visually impaired and who are willing to stand up and do something about it.

Art hosts a talk program Monday through Friday at 4:00 p.m. on KBTK Talk Radio 1310 AM. He is President of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico.