by Carson Wood
The Maine Institute for the Blind, known today as the Iris Network, was born in 1905 as a result of the efforts of the Maine Fraternal Association for the Blind, known today as ACB of Maine, ACB national's oldest affiliate. Presently, the Iris Network stands tall on its own merits, providing services to all of Maine's blind and visually impaired people.
The network has recently began the construction of apartments built specifically for people with visual impairments. Contrasting colors that mark the beginning of staircases, good lighting, braille as well as large- print markings, plus other innovations that can make life a little easier for those with visual impairments, have been incorporated into the project.
The National Federation of the Blind firmly believes in consumer choice. Consumer choice has been the buzzword when dealing with vocational rehabilitation services. The NFB wants rehab to include NFB centers as alternatives to local vendors for services. I agree that everything in life is a choice. I also believe that all the cards should be laid out on the table when a blind or visually impaired person is seeking a path to a better life. This being said, I question NFB, specifically Dr. Marc Maurer, if he and the NFB really do believe in consumer choice. If Maurer truly believes in consumer choice, I question his opposition to the Iris Network's apartment project he so negatively spoke against at NFB's national convention.
I understand the need for blind and visually impaired people to educate the sighted world to the fact that blind and visually impaired people can function in the world and are equal members of society. I don't believe we need to live in chosen discomfort to prove that point when we can make adaptations that make life easier and more pleasant in our private dwellings. If Maurer believes we do need to live in chosen discomfort to prove a point, then perhaps older Americans and people in wheelchairs should choose housing with stairs so everyone can see that they can overcome such barriers.
I am fortunate enough to own my own home. But there are many people who are not as fortunate. I love my home because I have lighting, furniture arrangements, and everything else set up just the way I want it. I do not choose to live in discomfort to prove a point to anyone.
The Iris Network Apartment Project is a new and exciting idea that fills a need. When completed, there will be consumer choice in housing for blind and visually impaired people in Portland, Maine.