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Community and Domestice Life: Independence

Jessie Sawhill on the Farm

People with disabilities are frequently ostracized from society and viewed as “different”. Society creates a norm, and those that do not fit within it find themselves an outcast. Because they are then perceived as abnormal, these individuals are regarded as dumb, lazy, and incapable. Unlike attitudes about other disabilities, blindness often generated a 'caretaker' attitude in family and community members. This outlook caused people to shield their blind relatives from the world because it was seen as a dangerous place where only the sighted could persevere. Even though blind individuals were generally capable of independence, constant restrictions and unnecessary intervention made them believe that they were, in fact, incapable of living on their own. Good intentions of family members actually became a debilitating influence, and until the 1960s many blind Iowans and Americans lived their lives dependent on their families and community.

Although blind people have come a long way, the caretaker attitude has still managed to persist, especially in adults who become blind later in life. It takes some time for these people to come to terms with their blindness, and seek help in regaining their autonomy. The battle for independence starts with the blind person, who must first be convinced and then convince those closest to her that she is capable of living on her own. Fortunately, through programs such as the Independent Living programs and the Adult Orientation Center, many resources are available to aid this process.
As philosophies on blindness have developed over the years, many blind people find themselves capable and in control of their own lives. A great deal of the sighted public does not realize that blind parents, co-workers, neighbors, and friends are no different from any other acquaintance from that same group. They may be blind, but there is no reason to believe that their blindness detracts from their ability to be independent, productive individuals.

The following are documents that describe how blind people maintain independence:
Blind But Independent (1950)
Letter to Miss Frimml (1975)

More resources on this subject are available in the Iowa Blind History archives.

Blind Individuals Talk About Their Experience and Struggles With Self-Reliance:

Bettina Dolinesk
Steve Hagemoser
Janice Borgwardt

To hear the full narrations, read transcripts, or find additional oral histories in which blind Iowans talk about their life experiences, visit the Oral History page.


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