They are second to none - Loss of vision does not mean lack of abilities
"I don't understand," said Conrad Harris, executive director of Jamaica Society for the Blind (JSB), "Why do people have to keep low expectations from us?"
This is a profound statement, which needs to get the notion and perception that, for people with any form of disabilities, it is a monumental effort to perform any day-to-day task and the worst part is, that it sort of becomes a norm that they need to be commended or congratulated for it.
"Do not clap or pat on the back if I climb up or down the stairs," said Harris, who lost his vision at an early age, and since, been trying to make and put sense in the 'normal people'.
"We don't need to be congratulated for being mediocre," he said.
According to him, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the perception of the society and how they view and treat people with disabilities they are humans, equal, and should be given the chance to succeed or fail as anyone else.
When a child is detected with a vision challenge, the first thing that needs to be done is to make the stakeholders parents, teachers and the fellow students aware of the issue.
Nature of problem
Most of the times, according to Harris, the perceived problem is more psychological than physical.
A perceived physical lacuna, unfortunately, becomes a focal point for a lot of people in the society to treat people with disabilities as if they are not humans to begin with, or have descended from another planet.
Showing remorse or pity is tops the cardinal sin.
"Everyone needs to understand that we are not no different than others," Harris said, his perennial smiling face showing signs of frown and disappointment. "Parents and teachers should treat people with disabilities as they do everyone else."
These perceptions, added Harris, are changing, but not at a pace that would make the executive director of JSB feel ecstatic.
"Though there are improvements, the opportunities are still poor," he said.
A level playing field has to be accorded across the board.
Inclusion, a key trait, which, according to the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) is having a sense of belonging and includes all people living, learning, working and playing together regardless of ability.
JCPD further lays out three Non- Negotiable Pillars of Inclusion support, participation, and access.
Critically, the non-negotiable pillars reaffirm inclusiveness in education which means maximising access, support, participation and progress of all students.
It is estimated that 253 million people in the world live with vision impairment, according to World Health Organization 36 million are blind and 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment. Of this, an estimated 19 million children are vision impaired 12 million children have a vision impairment due to refractive error and around 1.4 million have irreversible blindness, requiring access to vision rehabilitation services to optimise functioning and reduce disability.
At JSB Vision Centre, an array of affordable ophthalmological services are being offered, boosted by an approximately J$11 million grant from the Government of Japan through their Official Development Assistance.
"We do outreach programmes, screenings in schools and provide glasses and low-vision devices," Harris informed.
Low-vision devices, he said, are for people whose vision cannot be corrected with prescription glasses, which includes magnifiers, telescopes etc.
Beyond these, the individuals get counselling, Harris said.
"They need to feel good about themselves," he said.
Support and understanding is the key to get individuals to gain high self-esteem complemented with the right tools helps to enhance productivity and write success stories.
As we compete, not only with fellow humans, but technologies in all their manifestations out take over the jobs creativity and problem solving would be the traits to survive in all spheres of life.
As for inclusion and abilities, Ray Charles, Helen Keller, Stevie Wonder are some of the finest examples that through human capacity, capability and attitude one can achieve anything the limits that we set are in our minds.
Or as Helen Keller said "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched they must be felt with the heart."
All we need is the vision, not the sight ...