A community can help us feel safe and included. We can share similar challenges and experiences. A sense of community can come through friendships, recreational activities and work. Sometimes we can outgrow a community. We can also stay connected for life. I spoke to two people to get their take on the importance of a community for the vision impaired.
It doesn't define me, it's a part of me
David is legally blind. He works in the information technology sector with a disability organisation. He is not involved in any activities or groups intended for people who are blind or have low-vision.
I don't really seek out other people who are blind or low-vision or who have a disability. I am really interested in people and how vision impairment affects them on a personal level, but I don't think I'd ever join a group just because it was about blindness.
David has some friends who are blind or low-vision. He says they are friends because he worked with them for years.
I am not friends with them just because they're vision impaired. We have other things in common, and share interests other than issues relevant to the so-called blind community. We do talk about issues facing people who are blind or low-vision, but it's not the only thing we talk about.
David has found it easier to work in organisations that have some understanding of disability or are in the disability sector.
I have worked in places that don't focus on disability, and it can be hard to communicate what impact a disability has on your capacity to do something.
I have always been pretty independent, so it can be hard asking for help sometimes, but, if you work in a place where there's a better understanding of the issues facing people with a disability, it can make things a bit easier.
When asked about how he gets around, David explains he has only ever had one orientation and mobility session.
It was years ago. I had to grab the instructor so they didn't step in front of a speeding car at an intersection.
David's vision is degenerating. His reliance on services has changed over time.
I've started using a long cane in the past year or so, and I do ask for directions from time to time. And I recently used a disability employment agency which really helped with finding the right job.
So why doesn't he become more involved in the blindness community?
My experience is that certain elements of the blindness community can become too inward, too absorbed, and it builds a kind of us-and-them mentality. Getting others to really understand the issues that people with a disability experience is essential, and I'm not sure that being too focused on one thing is the best way to achieve this.
We need our own tribe
Barbara is a retired music teacher with low vision. Unlike David, she sees the blind community as essential. The blind community is valuable to Barbara because she finds it a source of strength. To her strong friendships with blind people are important.
This is because we understand each other, she says.
Barbara belongs to many communities including the Braille music community. She also has a passion for Braille literacy.
Blind people taught me a great deal because being a kid from the country I didn't know anything until I met other blind people at university. In 1962 to 1963 Barbara took a year off her studies to learn Braille.
For Barbara, community symbolises cooperation and political activism of blind affairs. She cares passionately that blind people have opportunities.
We're never going to have opportunities if we leave it to sighted people, she asserts.
Like David, Barbara explains that there are challenging social and professional situations for blind people. She cites public transport as an example.
Blind people find it difficult getting rides to places, she says.
Barbara talks about the Blind Workers Union of Victoria as being a valuable resource and one she has used in the past.
It is a very strong organisation which keeps strong bonds between blind people. This is as well as being an industrial force.
Last but not least Barbara's solidarity and political activism comes through very strongly as she says,
Many blind people are protective and not communicative of their own little empire. They are colonised by Government grants. But we need to have our own tribe.
Living with blindness
Living with blindness is different for everybody. Barbara and David have opposing views about the blind community. Each story is absolutely valid.