Equal under the law does not mean equal capabilities

My god. Can anyone else spot the problem with this situation?

EDIT: I am posting the whole story here so you don't have to register to read it.

Drowning highlights old debate among blind
Terry Collins, Star Tribune

Published July 22, 2003

The drowning of a 7-year-old blind girl at a Lake Calhoun beach has focused public attention on a decades-old debate within the blind community:

How do blind people striving to live independently, balance those desires with their need for help in a world where most people can see?

Brianna Joy Nelson of Grant, Mich., drowned Friday while on an outing with a group of campers from Blind Inc., a Minneapolis company that helps blind children learn life skills from adults who, like them, are blind.

Three blind counselors accompanied eight blind children to the beach for a swim.

"This is magnified because there was a tragedy in such a public place," said Joyce Scanlan, executive director of Blind Inc. "Unfortunately, these types of accidents do happen, and when they do, it's easy to blame blind people."

While several groups agree that a blind person should be allowed to be as self-sufficient as possible, their philosophies vary, and they seldom reach consensus on the proper balance.

The girl's drowning has highlighted the deep-rooted differences, especially between Minnesota's largest support groups for the visually impaired, the American Council of the Blind of Minnesota (ACB) and the National Federation of the Blind, Twin Cities chapter (NFB).

"What you've all discovered is nothing new," said Ken Rodgers, Minnesota president of the Council of the Blind, who thinks that more sighted supervision was needed for the swim outing. "Not all blind people think the same way."

Chuck Hamilton, acting director for the Minnesota State Services for the Blind, works regularly with both groups and is well aware of their differences. Both stress independence in education, employment and living arrangements, he said.

Whereas the Council of the Blind might seek more assistance from sighted people, Hamilton said, the National Federation of the Blind encourages blind people to stretch their independence level to the highest degree.

"I believe there has been criticism because people think the blind ought to be viewed in the same way because of their condition," he said. "In Minnesota, there is a long track record of them not working together.

Hamilton added: "I personally would like to see them work together more on common issues, but they need to reserve the right to see things differently."

Ruth Lundquist, president of 160-member United Blind of Minnesota, an advocacy group based in Minneapolis, agrees. The local groups parallel their national counterparts on differences that have persisted for more than 40 years, she said.

She said she believes that as the Council of the Blind works for the rights of blind people, the group strongly encourages seeking help when needed. Meanwhile, she said she thinks that the National Federation sometimes has a "cavalier attitude that blindness is a nuisance and not a disability.

"That's true to an extent, but while we believe we can do certain things, I'm not going to tell you I can go out and drive," Lundquist said.

Yet, the ceiling to what a blind person can do "is much higher" than even 10 years ago, Hamilton said. Given the right training, there are not a lot of things the visually impaired can't do, he said, rattling off examples of accountants, attorneys and doctors who are blind.

He said there are an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 blind and visually impaired people living in Minnesota, most over the age of 65.

"We think with education and opportunity, the sky's the limit," he said.

That is the approach the National Federation of the Blind follows, said Judy Sanders, a secretary for the 500-member local chapter. Sanders said comments by Rodgers could, in a strange way, actually be doing "us a favor because maybe we can educate more people."

Rodgers, of the Council of the Blind, said his 150-member group has no problems using voice-modulated computers, canes, Braille and guide dogs to mitigate the effects of blindness.

Neither does it have problems with asking for help.

"It sounds very altruistic to say that we're blind people, and we don't need help," Rodgers said. "Well, I'm sorry, but sometimes you do."

And he still stands firm that on Friday, Blind Inc., a subsidiary of the National Federation of the Blind, needed more help. He said he is convinced that Blind Inc. and the National Federation think blindness is a trait and "believe that to a fault.

"But we all have our limitations. Three blind counselors taking care of eight small children. You do the math," Rodgers said. "We're not helpless, but we're not afraid to ask for help.

"I make no apologies that if one person's life is saved because they used one of these tools, including asking for help sometimes, then I think it's worth it."

Scanlan, who maintains that her group was not negligent in the drowning, said she feels that Rodgers is reinforcing old images of the blind. Blind people ought to be able to choose their lifestyle, without the need of constant help, she said.

"Yes, we need some help. But in the daily course of life, we believe a blind person can be competent and live full lives," Scanlan said. "We know that society has a custodialized, paternalistic view. We're trying to break that stereotype."

But it isn't easy, she said.

"The problem is you're not going to resolve it overnight, you explain and keep explaining. You're not going to change everyone's beliefs, especially like those of Mr. Rodgers," Scanlan said. "You're not going to do that in one week.

"It's an ongoing process."

Not everyone is equal. Some people are smarter. Some people are better looking. Some people are born into good or bad families. Some people have natural athletic talent. And, unfairly, some people are handicapped.

When are we going to stop lying to ourselves that equal protections under the law somehow equates to some sense of cosmic fairness?

I''m sorry, do you actually disagree with the main point that blind people can live normal lives under the full extent of their capabilities? Of course they can''t drive or be professional football players but if a company hires a perfectly capable blind person who can safely make his way to work then there isn''t anything to worry about, right? It''s not like they are asking for positive discrimination or something...

...do you actually disagree with the main point that blind people can live normal lives under the full extent of their capabilities?

Nope not at all. And you included the key phrase: ""under the full extent of their capabilities"". But why do people insist that everyone is equally capable? The fact that three blind counselors thought they had no need of a sighted person to come along when they took 8 blind children swimming in a lake is idiotic.

This is one small example of an endemic problem. There is no cosmic fairness. We would be better off as a people if we would stop trying to pursue it and instead focus on making the real world better.

Hey, the Umpire''s union has been employing blind people for years and nobody''s raised a stink about that.

Well, I really don''t see the point of turning this apparant media fad into a full fledged ''discussion'' on blind peoples rights. Sounds like an unfortunate accident, not a clear-cut example of some sort of injustice.

Koesj, you misunderstand my point. I apologize if I have been unclear. This was an unfortunate accident. But it was also highly preventable. Why on earth wasn''t there at least one sighted person there? Did none of the childrens'' parents think it would be a good idea if at least one person could see? There is a reason that the phrase ''blind leading the blind'' is derogatory in nature.

The problem is indicitive of society''s fascination with saying that all people have equal capabilities when they obviously don''t. And it is not society''s responsibility to try an make everyone equal. Providing some level of basic protections for disabled people is good. Trying to pretend that the handicap doesn''t exist at all is foolish and ultimately destructive.

I think the injustice, if that''s what it is, lies in the fact that many would be fearful about publically objecting to such an ill-conceived trip for fear of drawing the wrath of the blind community. It just sounds like a bad idea. Three sighted adults with eight blind kids on a swimming trip sounds like a handful to me, but if I, a sighted individual, raised a stink about this I could be accused of holding the blind to be less capable. I think, correct me if I''m wrong, this is what Johnny is getting at.

Thanks maddy. Summed it up nicely.

Three blind counselors + eight blind kids + swimming = really bad idea.

Any sighted person pointing this out is obviously insensitive and biased against blind people. And this is a corollary to a much bigger issue - this preoccupation with some sort of cosmic fairness.

By the way, I just can''t resist any more. This had to be the worst game of Marco Polo in recorded history...

Too true, but what rules could be applied if for example the parents of those children agreed with the trip? It''s their own god damn responsibility right?

Oh absolutely. I can''t believe that a parent ever agreed to it. Would you let a blind person babysit your child?

I was just trying to make a point about the fundamental idiocy of political correctness.

Well the interesting thing to pursue would be if all involved were 100% blind. What I''m trying to get at is, being legally blind doesnt mean you can''t see at all. Sometimes it can just mean that even with corrective lenses you cant get remotely close to 20/20.

A camp counselor that may be legally blind but had limited vision should have been able to prevent this. Hell, if the child had limited vision this should not have happened.

Would I let a blind person babysit my infant? No.

I would let a blind person babysit a child 4 or older depending on the child and depending on the situation.

I was just trying to make a point about the fundamental idiocy of political correctness.

Which is a point I do hope everyone agrees with, still think that your wording or at least your perceived intentions were a bit off though