Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Blind Neglect

I was sad when I learned about the problems in the Detroit Public Schools and sick when I learned about the Flint water crisis, but I was not surprised.  Since the recession" hit Michigan in 2005 (earlier than many other States), services for the blind and visually impaired have either been eliminated or handed off to nonprofit agencies that serve other populations or are in other States.  Michigan even has a book-length directory of services that tells people "where to go."  Three of my friends who are blind moved out of Michigan in the past year to get services and also found jobs—just a few years later than Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm did.

The blind neglect in the State of Michigan exists because of a lack of downward loyalty caused by the blind ambition of too many politicians and their appointees.  These “public servants” want loyal voters but forget that loyalty must be given in return.

In the past ten years, under Democratic and Republican “leadership,” the Michigan Commission for the Blind closed and refused to reopen cases, suffered power plays, reorganized several times, had at least one law suit, and changed its name.  Libraries for the blind and physically handicapped were closed.  The Washtenaw County LBPH was “absorbed” by the Ann Arbor District Library, but the budget for the LBPH did not allow staffing by professional special librarians nor upgrades of the old XP computers and JAWS screen-reading software from version 11 to the current version 17.  The State of Michigan also had not reinstalled JAWS on its Michigan Works employment office computers when they were upgraded to Windows 7, yet this is still where blind and physically handicapped job seekers are told to go for assistance during their job hunt.  The Braille Institutes in California are training their clients on Windows 10 computers with JAWS 17.  The most up-to-date hardware and software are needed by job seekers and employees who need to work with online forms and social media.

While I cannot say enough good things about the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired (formerly the Hadley School for the Blind) and its 96 years of distance learning, “boots on the ground” such as the Braille Institute in California are essential in every State to fight for the quality of life of people who are living with blindness and potentially blinding diseases.  Cultural changes in the past 100 years that include smaller families and the breakup of the family caused by job relocations have increased the incidences of blind neglect, abuse, and abandonment.  I recently met a senior citizen who needs a rehabilitation counselor, trainer, and services.  All that he received was a sturdy, white walking cane that supports his weight and indicates that he has sight loss and a talking watch.  He was not given any information about the LBPH, but he knew about its services because his deceased wife had used it.

If the people of Detroit and Flint believe that they can sit back and trust the State of Michigan and its Democratic and Republican politicians to solve their problems without constant vigilance and advocacy, they need to think again.  They can teach “public servants” to be caring and even force them to be caring, but they cannot make them care.  Loving what is left requires self-advocacy and legal assistance when needed.  In the political arena, nice guys and gals don’t finish last.  As the unemployment rate for the blind and visually impaired of 70-80% shows, most don’t finish at all.

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