As South Carolina legislators and other elected officials ponder their respective agendas, we want to chime in with priorities from the blind and visually impaired community. While our community has enjoyed progress in recent years thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act and other measures, much more still needs to be done to ensure that people who are blind enjoy full inclusion, equality and justice.
Our unemployment numbers, for example, are much greater than those of our sighted counterparts. National statistics show that the unemployment rate for people who are blind or visually impaired hovers at around 70%. Sad to say, but a stigma still exists that a blind or visually impaired person would be a liability to a company. Nothing could be further from the truth as blind people, if given the chance, are some of the most productive employees around.
Accordingly, we'd like to propose the following: that our state government as well as local governments commit to hiring more individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We would also like to see them strongly encourage private businesses to do the same. Along these lines, we want blind businessmen and entrepreneurs to have the same opportunities and access to grants and other incentives that minority- and female-owned businesses currently receive.
To help make this happen, we would strongly urge that both the government and private sectors include the blind or visually impaired as a category under the Minority and the Minority Business Enterprise classifications. These steps could help open economic doors heretofore closed to our community.
There are other issues we need to address. All too often, those of us with guide dogs still routinely face discrimination when requesting rides via a taxi or Uber. Time and time again, we hear stories about blind customers being denied rides because the drivers don't want the animals in their vehicles. This is against the law and must be stopped. That is why the National Federation of the Blind sued Uber and Lyft to bring about better education for their drivers. We urge legislators at the state and local levels to put more teeth in anti-discrimination measures.
To ensure greater safety for blind and sighted pedestrians alike, we would like to see that warning/danger signs include an audible recorded message stating, for example, that a sidewalk is blocked off.
Another thing that needs to change are, quite simply, attitudes. There are too many Americans who consider the blind or visually impaired to be second-class or inferior people. Their sense of superiority doesn't allow them to accept us on an equal footing. As a result, many blind or visually impaired individuals are often in a state of isolation, cut off from mainstream society.
A dramatic change in the public's attitudes about the blind along with adoption of the aforementioned proposals could help break down the economic and social barriers that still exist for too many in our community. Their adoption could help propel us to the more just society we all should strive for!
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day, we raise the expectations of blind people because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want: blindness is not what holds you back.
Chair, Legislative Committee
National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina
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