by Linda Samulski
Please don’t feel sorry for the people I’m about to mention; they wouldn’t like that! Please don’t be angry with them either. Instead, look to your higher compassionate self and think about who they are, and reflect on what they might be experiencing. I wish I could share their entire stories here, but just know that I, a white woman, learned countless lessons of courage, resilience, and strength from them.
As a member of the American Council of the Blind, we all belong to a subgroup of diverse people, of intersectionality along with blindness. For example, someone may be blind and have diabetes or a different chronic illness. There are also others in the subgroup who have the same condition. In other words, we all share one commonality, which in this case is blindness, while also belonging to a labeled subgroup of something else.
While working at the center for the blind in San Diego as a life skills instructor, I met many different types of people who were either losing their vision, or who had already lost it. Here are some of them that had very unique circumstances. Gang members physically blinded from violence, war refugees with very limited English skills, dreamers with uncertain immigrant status, people who were unhoused, or lived in very substandard housing, men and women living in abusive situations, people in nursing homes with other chronic illness or disability, people with traumatic brain injury, or developmental disability, and many others. These are the people who are the hardest to reach, but yet I met all of them. I visited their homes, and at first was met with mistrust. But after we got to know each other, I was always met with grace and kindness. I still cherish each of them, and the memories they bring.
There is nothing wrong with having assistive technology, or a nice home, but what about the people who don’t have these basic luxuries? I believe that many people think that everyone has these things, or at least everyone has opportunities to get them. However, in the greatest country in the world, many people lack the necessities of life such as good food, healthcare, and housing. We can’t look the other way; we have to see them with the eyes of our heart and reach out every way we can, because they are all a part of our blind community and human family.
The American Council of the Blind does a wonderful job of including diverse groups through Zoom and ACB Media. We try to do it through our chapters and affiliates as well. This is why working groups such as the Multicultural Affairs Committee, with its Hispanic Affairs subcommittee, and the Inclusive Diversity of California affiliate are so important. They provide information, resources, education, advocacy, and peer support to people who may need a different cultural understanding.
Both the Multicultural Affairs Committee and the Inclusive Diversity of California affiliate facilitated several listening sessions to give voice to some of our ACB members with unique experiences, needs and perspectives. A listening session is simply a place where people can share their experiences, ideas, and feelings without judgment. We actually just listen to each other. This creates more equity, and a bonding unity, and understanding instead of an “us and them” kind of mentality.
We need to try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. What is it like to live in a homeless shelter? What is it like to come to a new country without knowing the culture or the language, plus being blind? These are the types of people we need to look for and welcome into our own community.
When we’ve found them, the question becomes: Will we embrace, include, and accept all types of people with diverse backgrounds? This is my vision for diversity in ACB, to walk with my brothers and sisters together through this life’s journey, embracing, including, and accepting them whoever they are, with dignity and understanding.