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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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TV show may change views on blindness

Carl Augusto Knight Ridder

A BC’s new show “Blind Justice” is more than just another cop drama.

During the premiere on March 8, many Americans watched police detective Jim Dunbar, the show’s lead character, wake up, turn off his alarm clock, get dressed, make coffee and head to work like most of us do in the morning.

But what makes watching these mundane tasks on television interesting is that Dunbar is blind. After losing his sight during a shootout, Dunbar must prove to his family, friends and co-workers that he can continue to work as a detective and live an independent and rewarding life.

The show challenges the myth that people with disabilities cannot, and do not, lead independent and productive lives.

As president of a national organization and a blind individual myself, I’ve confronted these stereotypes throughout my life.

People are often surprised to hear that I travel to work and navigate foreign cities without assistance. Many are also surprised to learn that I am an avid sports fan and that I attend movies, theater and music performances.

Dunbar’s character – though fictional – demystifies people who are blind and gives viewers a chance to learn what it means to experience vision loss in 2005.

Technology has revolutionized life for the 10 million blind and visually impaired people living in the United States. As we see on the show, assistive mobility and technology devices – such as guide dogs, long canes, computers with speech synthesizers or scanners that convert text to Braille – allow people with vision loss to do just about anything.

The show’s viewers may be amazed that a blind person could be a cop, but there are thousands of real-life examples out there.

I know NASA scientists, chefs, doctors, investment bankers, federal judges, state representatives and artists with vision loss, who are known not for their disability but for their accomplishments.

Yet the fact remains that only 46 percent of adults who are blind or visually impaired are employed. This is partly because people don’t have access to the tools they need to get ahead. But more often, it’s because misconceptions and stereotypes prevent people who are blind from gaining employment.

Personnel managers and corporations can easily change these figures by making offices more accessible and being more open to hiring people with disabilities. Workplace accommodations could be as simple as adding Braille labels to the copy machine or enabling computers with speech output. In fact, companies should be actively recruiting blind workers since they are among the most loyal and dedicated of employees.

As baby boomers age, the number of people with vision loss is expected to multiply, and more and more people will rely on assistive technology to continue working and living independently. This is not a generation that will settle for early retirement or reduced quality of life because of vision loss. They will insist on products that meet their needs – like talking ATMs and prescription bottles with larger print. They will also continue to travel, visit museums, read books and fully participate in all aspects of society.

Let’s hope the real justice that comes from ABC’s new show is a transformation in the way society views blindness.

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