by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express-News,” April 23, 2016.
(Editor’s Note: Larry Johnson is an author and motivational speaker. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at www.mexicobytouch.com.)
Privacy is a basic human right. And the fact that I happen to be blind does not change this fact, nor my desire to be able to independently and privately review my monthly bank and credit card statements, check my utility bills, read a restaurant menu, or enter my personal PIN when checking out at the big box store. The failure by companies to recognize the privacy rights of people with visual impairments is bad policy, bad customer service, and can lead to the forced disclosure of sensitive personal information that should be kept confidential.
I recently changed my dental health care provider and asked the company to send me a copy of my plan of coverage in braille. They said, “Oh, we don’t do that. Don’t you have someone at home who can read it to you?”
A few months ago, I was offered a new Visa card with some very attractive features by my bank. They currently provide me with monthly statements of my checking and CD accounts in braille, for which I am sincerely grateful. So, I asked if I were to sign up, would I receive my monthly statements for the Visa card in braille as well. “No,” they said, “it’s a different company.” I hope to change their mind.
Several years ago I contacted the local utility company and requested that they begin sending me a copy of my monthly bill in braille. They declined. “If you want to call customer service, we can have someone read it to you over the phone.” But I want to be able to read it privately by myself, at my convenience, like everyone else.
Quite often the attitudes underlying these behaviors by companies are unconscious. They are so deeply embedded and pervasive that the individuals voicing them are unaware of their impact. Such beliefs lead to the perception that blind people aren’t entitled to, don’t want or simply can’t benefit from personal protection of their privacy.
A blind friend tells of an experience when she recently went to a doctor’s office and was asked to reveal verbally her medical history and her Social Security number to the receptionist in a waiting room full of people. Not only was this personally embarrassing to her, but it was a blatant and very dangerous invasion of her right to privacy. Unscrupulous individuals are ever ready to seize the opportunity to steal someone’s personal medical information and sell it for profit.
Lainey Feingold, a leading national attorney on disability rights and structured negotiations, writes: “Stereotypes about people with disabilities, no matter how unconscious those stereotypes are, often lead to legal problems. Well-meaning companies can invest in accessible technologies and adopt new policies, but if the staff who interact with the public still holds unsupported, unfair and outmoded views of people who are blind, legal issues will continue to arise. That is why customer service training is an important part of an effective accessibility policy, and often a key component of a structured negotiations settlement. There are many aspects of a good training program, but one of the most important is dissolving stereotypes about blind people that all too often lead a company into legal trouble.”
Walk in my shoes and respect my right to privacy, just as you ask that I respect yours. And that’s how I see it.