Cruel and short-sighted - Blind women treated worse than blind men on the streets
As a blind woman, 34-year-old Camille Wilson has to navigate potholes, light posts and, unfortunately, the perception held by some Jamaicans that blind women require far less help than men who have visual challenges.
“Sighted people are more hostile to blind women than to blind men, especially when you are on the road,” said Wilson in an interview with volunteer at the Jamaica Society for the Blind, Dr Anne-Maria Bankay.
“When I walk with a blind man, if I am just a few steps ahead, people will reprimand me and make comments like, ‘How you wicked so? Wait fi de blind man nuh.’ Never mind that I am recognisably blind, walking with a white cane,” she charged.
Wilson was visually impaired until the age of three when she went completely blind. The mother of one finds that her experience is one shared by many women who are blind or visually impaired, including her mother.
“My mother, who is legally blind, was sitting on a bus and a blind man who was young and strong boarded the bus. People began to curse my mother, who is much older and weaker than the man, telling her to get up and give the blind man a seat,” Wilson recounted.
“No explanation she gave satisfied them,” added Wilson.
DISPARITY IN TREATMENT
Robert Williams, a 29-year-old graduate of the University of the West Indies, has seen the disparity in treatment first-hand.
“People in Jamaica are more likely to help a blind man than a blind woman. It could be that Jamaican women are socialised to take care of men, so they naturally act this way towards a blind man,” he surmised.
“Even in a bank, you will hear the comments, ‘She blind, why she never bring somebody to help her?’ While the question to the blind man who has come in alone is: ‘May I help you, sir?’ No negative comment, no attitude,” said Williams.
For Wilson, while venturing on the roads sometimes elicit words of encouragement, there are occasions when her efforts to assert her independence are frowned upon.
“I have often heard people say, ‘Move out a mi way. What somebody like you a do pon de street?’ There is also the belief that your family did something bad and so you are cursed, while others think you are blessed and have magical powers,” said Wilson.
Williams has also had some mindboggling encounters. “You will encounter Christians who begin immediately to pray for healing for you, whether you want them to or not. They genuinely believe that prayer and faith will give you back your sight,” said Williams.
“If you do not want them to pray for you, they will curse you and tell you that is the reason you are blind,” he lamented.
The discrimination and mobility issues have not deterred Wilson or Williams from pursuing their dreams.
Wilson has a first degree and teaches at a high school in Kingston, while Williams has a small pastry business. Both also make time to give back to organisations that help those with disabilities.
“It always bothers me when sighted persons complain and do not contribute to any organisation, while blind persons usually try to give back to the organisations that helped them,” said Wilson.
– Volunteer with the Jamaica Society for the Blind, Dr Anne-Maria Bankay, contributed to this story.