by John Rae
(Editor’s Note: John Rae is past president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC). He lives in Toronto, Ontario.)
When we talk about changing attitudes, we are usually focusing on the general public, but, more often than we would like, one of our biggest challenges is revisiting and trying to revise the attitudes of people who make up our own family.
Today, I believe that it is time for us to revisit how we perceive ourselves, and to take a look at how we approach the world based on our self-concept.
Over the years, we have come to see ourselves as consumers, and this is entirely appropriate. We are consumers. We consume services – rehabilitation services, orientation and mobility services, technology training and more, and we are a part of the broader disability rights consumer movement.
Seeing ourselves as consumers has led us to develop heightened expectations of the content and quality of all services that are provided to us, and that is a positive development.
But we as blind people are comprised of a wide variety of other characteristics. We are also parents, students, travelers, home owners, renters, workers and would-be workers, and we are advocates. How we see ourselves often greatly affects how we see the world, what we expect from it, and what we try to do to make it more welcoming for us and those who will come after us.
We are also customers, though we do not often think of ourselves in this context. We spend our disposable income purchasing a wide variety of products – television sets and audio equipment, stoves, washing machines and other household appliances, groceries, airline, theatre and concert tickets, and a wide range of other products. In each of these situations, we are customers, participating alongside our sighted counterparts in the marketplace.
Do we have expectations that paper currency will be identifiable? Do we expect point-of-sale devices, including various kinds of kiosks, to be accessible and usable? Do we expect grocery and other store ads to be easily accessible and readable by us? Are we able to easily use online banking and to make purchases online?
The report titled “Why accessibility is good for Ontario,” states:
“Currently 1 in 7 people or 1.85 million Ontarians have a disability. By 2036, as the population ages: 1 in 5 Ontarians will have a disability and people with disabilities will represent 40% or $536 billion of the total income in Ontario.
“Improved accessibility in Ontario can generate up to $9.6 billion in new retail spending and up to $1.6 billion in new tourism spending.
“Getting both businesses and blind people to see us as customers can provide a win-win outcome. The idea makes good business sense, as making information and products more accessible should encourage us to use our increasing disposable income when shopping for products that are more easily usable. And for us, increasing access to regular products and accompanying services will help us integrate more fully into all aspects of regular society, and that’s one of our goals.”
For more information on the AEBC’s “I Am Your Customer” campaign, visitwww.blindcanadians.ca.