Half of people in poverty are disabled or live with a disabled person

Originaly published at: http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2016/august/half-people-poverty-are-disabled-or-live-disabled-person

A detailed new report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation finds that almost half of people in poverty in the UK are disabled or live in a household with a disabled person.

The New Policy Institute report – Disability and Poverty – says that disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to be disadvantaged in the following multiple aspects of life: these are problems in of themselves and also contributing factors to poverty:

employment – 46% of working-age disabled people are in employment, compared with 80% of non-disabled people;
skills – there is a considerable ‘skills gap’ between disabled and non-
disabled people (for example, only 15% of disabled people have a degree, compared with around 30% of non-disabled people);
pay – low pay rates for disabled people are higher than those for non-disabled people, at 34% compared with 27%;
costs – disabled people face higher costs than non-disabled people, (such as the cost of equipment to manage a condition) which means that the same level of income secures a lower standard of living than it would for a non-disabled person; and
social security system – there is evidence that ‘extra costs’ benefits such as DLA and PIP do not cover these extra costs sufficiently: in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, disabled people are more likely to be materially deprived, whether they receive extra costs benefits or not.
The report recommends two approaches to reduce poverty among disabled people –

maximise resources – this is partly about increasing employment, (such as the government’s ambition to halve the disability employment rate gap) and a focus on job retention rather than re-entry to work;
reducing costs – high rates of material deprivation among disabled people suggest a failing of the social security system in mitigating these costs. In addition, the role of high housing costs in driving poverty for disabled people should be investigated, particularly for both private and social renters.
A summary of Disability and Poverty is available @ http://npi.org.uk/files/7414/7087/2444/Disability_and_poverty_SUMMARY_REPORT_FINAL.pdf

The full report is available @ http://npi.org.uk/files/3414/7087/2429/Disability_and_poverty_MAIN_REPORT_FINAL.pd

BMW supports ALL athletes by building an incredible performance wheelchair

Originaly published at: http://f30.bimmerpost.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1291908

Its that Olympics time of the year and BMW is one to always be involved in some way/shape/form. This year, BMW is showcasing an incredible performance wheelchair designed for Paralympians. I’m sure you’ve seen short little spots featuring this chair during the Olympics coverage, but they have produced a longer video titled “Built for Gold”

The video stars Josh George who won gold at the 2008 Paralymping games in Beijing. The video beautifully shows him as a pure athlete and one forgets about the chair itself. Whats I love about this is that BMW is using its corporate resources to bring greater attention the Paralympics.

The Delta

Originaly published at: http://www.theplayerstribune.com/brad-snyder-usa-paralympics/


I thought I was dead.

When the blast first happened, I could still actually see out of my left eye, and I remember looking down at my body and noticing that both my legs and both my arms were still intact. I thought that meant that I was dead. I really assumed I had passed over and was in purgatory waiting for what was next.

As an explosives specialist in a Navy SEAL unit, I accepted the fact that I could die every time I went on patrol. I expected to die, actually. Before I left for a patrol, I would mentally say goodbye to everything and make sure my bed was made.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it was that made serving in the Navy so appealing to me. The truth is that it was probably a confluence of a few factors. Military service was pretty much wired into my DNA. Both of my grandfathers served in the Navy in World War II, so it was an important part of my upbringing. Growing up, you would find me playing with G.I. Joes while watching Top Gun. I was unconsciously aware that I wanted this life from a very young age.

I expected to die. Before I left for a patrol, I would mentally say goodbye to everything and made sure my bed was made before I left.

It all kind of clicked my sophomore year of high school when my Uncle, who served in the Navy at the time, took me to the Naval Academy in Annapolis and gave me a tour. It truly was love at first sight. I walked the campus and was completely in awe of the history and the tradition I was surrounded by. It was a destination for the country’s best and brightest, so I made it my life’s mission to one day go to school there. Two years later, I was admitted.

When I arrived in Annapolis, I had to decide more specifically how I wanted to create a career in the military. Eventually, I was drawn to the explosive ordnance disposal community. I found taking apart bombs fascinating, almost like a high stakes academic challenge. It was something that just made sense to me and as I pursued it I felt like I was fulfilling my destiny.

When I graduated from The Academy, I landed my dream job as an explosives specialist for a SEAL team. I essentially functioned as a SEAL in a SEAL platoon, but my expertise was in explosives rather than assault operations.


On the 7th of September, 2011, I was on a joint U.S./Afghan patrol — half Navy SEALs, half Afghan Special Forces. We were clearing an area looking for Taliban fighters and weapons. My job was to protect our assault team from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried in the ground and decide how to dispose of enemy weapons we discovered. In our mission planning, I would consult images that showed us all of the IED activity in the area — we’d be walking around and the map would often look like chicken pox.

In areas like this, we’d have an explosives specialist like myself move through the area with a metal detector until it was cleared while everyone else followed behind. My partner, the other specialist, was clearing a path that morning when two of the Afghan Special Forces veered off course and landed on an IED, killing both of them.

Everything was pretty chaotic, but my job at that point, not knowing their immediate status, was to get them on a helicopter so they could go to a hospital. In the ensuing effort to render aid to these men, I stepped on a secondary device located about five meters from the original blast site. The blast occurred right in front of me, which is the only reason I’m still here today. Had the blast been below me, I would be gone. I was 18 inches away from certain death.

Even though I was able to walk away, I took the brunt of the damage to my face. I spent over 100 hours in surgery and ultimately came out completely fine, except for my eyes. I was told that I would be completely blind for the rest of my life.

In my line of work, I thought there was always a chance that I could lose a leg. In every blast incident that I had seen, the men closest to the explosion lost at least one leg. I’d mentally prepared myself for death or amputation, but I never thought I’d become blind.

I lived my previous life like I was invincible. Now my biggest challenge in life would be discovering what I could still do.

When I got the prognosis that I would never be able to see again, I latched onto idea that I was thankful to be alive. I was thankful to still have my limbs. I was thankful to still be here with my family. I still had the opportunity to experience a long and happy life, I would just need to adjust to the idea that it would be a different life than I’d imagined. I made the decision to be thankful and optimistic, and it improved my quality of life at that time.

I spent three weeks at Walter Reed hospital in Maryland in intensive care. Once most of the wounds had healed, I was moved to Tampa’s Veterans Hospital. I was there for about five more weeks before I was finally allowed to go home during weekends.

While I was in the hospital, there were so many people caring for me and worrying about me all the time. Everyone around me was feeling so much pain over my situation, and honestly, I hated it.

I went from being a person capable of anything — I was trained to shoot military-grade assault weapons, jump out of aircraft and take apart bombs — to someone completely dependent upon others. I lived my previous life like I was invincible. Now my biggest challenge in life would be discovering what I could still do.

All I wanted to do was prove to everybody that I was going to be fine. I just wanted my life to get back to normal.

I needed a vehicle to show everyone in my life that I was still strong, so I turned to swimming. I did some of my rehab where I grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and that community knew me as a swimmer. I competed from the age of 11 all the way through college, where I swam against NCAA competition for the Midshipmen. About eight weeks after my surgery, I was offered the opportunity to hop in the pool for the first time since losing my sight, and I decided to go for it. Honestly, after weeks of having everyone around me concerned about my future, I was so excited to show off what I was capable of doing.

The feeling of swimming — the stroke, the pace, the strategy and most of all, the mental image — sometimes make me forget that I’m blind. I have a very vivid image in my mind of what the pool around me looks like, and I’ll begin to swim like I used to. This inevitably results in me smacking into the lane line, which results in cuts and bruises. And I crash — a lot.

I’ve adapted my stroke to where I keep my hands very low so I can feel for the lane lines. Normally, if I find it with my hands on my outstroke, I can bend my body and go back to the middle of the lane without crashing. But when I get going and my adrenaline is high, I’m not blind anymore. I completely lose myself in the moment.

2012 London Paralympics – Day 9 – Swimming

My first race was in February of 2012, just five months after I lost my vision. I jumped in the pool and felt like I had a good swim, and when I emerged I was told that I had recorded the fifth-fastest time in the world among active blind athletes. I assumed they were looking at the wrong list. I thought I might be the fifth-fastest swimmer amongst 28-year-olds from St. Petersberg named Brad. But fifth in the world? It was unbelievable for a number of reasons. I had never really experienced success on that level before. I’d won only one race when I was in college and while I considered myself a good athlete, the idea of being a world-ranked swimmer was difficult to fathom.

When I get going and my adrenaline is high, I’m not blind anymore. I completely lose myself in the moment.

It took a week to really figure out what this meant for my life and where I could take it. As luck would so have it, it was a Paralympic year, so the possibility emerged of representing the United States at the Paralympics. For the first time in a long while, I was overwhelmed in a positive way.

My next race was at the Paralympic trials to make the national team, and I had two first-place finishes and one third-place finish. And just like that, I found out I would be going to London to represent the United States. In those months when I first started swimming again, the level of excitement just kept rising. The higher the stakes, the more exciting it got. Not only could I do this, I was one of the best in the world. That feeling of touching the wall and hearing familiar cheers telling me I won the race was almost intoxicating. Every time I touched the water it felt magical.

In London, my success in the pool continued as I won three medals, including a gold medal on the one-year anniversary of the explosion that cost me my vision. Standing on the podium and hearing the national anthem play will forever be one of the proudest moments of my life.

2012 London Paralympics – Day 9 – Swimming

Everything moved so fast during that year that I didn’t have time to sit back and truly reflect on what had happened to me in Afghanistan. I was entirely focused on chasing after that feeling of excitement and anticipation. For the first time in my life, I was considered an elite athlete, and it all happened because of something tragic. That’s a lot to reconcile.

It really wasn’t until the December after the Paralympics, that I really sat back and said Wow. I stumbled into so many cool and exciting opportunities — from traveling around the world to meeting the president — that my family started calling me Forrest Gump. A lot of the time it felt like I was watching alongside them, witnessing the journey rather than experiencing it. I couldn’t believe what was happening, either.

It felt like I had taken out a loan on the time needed to adapt to my new life, and it was the next two years that I spent paying it back as I truly learned how to function as a blind person. It’s very easy to say that you made a decision not to let something bring you down, but the reality is much more complicated.


It’s somewhat easy to paint my story as one about someone who bounced back from something tragic, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I was always on a certain path, and when blindness struck, I adapted and continued, focused forward in a singular direction.

In that time, I did my best to not pay attention to what I call “The Delta,” which is the difference between what I used to be able to do and what I can do now.

My initial frustrations with blindness were very simple things. Like for example, I really struggled to get the right amount of toothpaste on the end of my toothbrush. A task that I had mindlessly performed my entire life now served as a huge challenge. I never considered that I used my eyes to measure how much toothpaste comes out of the tube, but having that ability taken away was one of many demoralizing moments. Just walking down the hallway can be a frustrating, bumping into walls and smacking my head on cupboards. But there are also those moments when I just truly feel trapped.

I did my best to not pay attention to what I call “The Delta,” which is the difference between what I used to be able to do and what I can do now.

I have a guide dog named Gizzy, and in the fall of 2013, I took her to a dog park. It was the first very cold day of the year, but I really wanted to take her out, so I was the only person at the park. On rare occasion, my dog will sometimes leave and not come back to me. It’s not because she’s being a bad dog, it’s because she thinks its a game. On that cold day, my dog decided to play a game and left without coming back. As a result, I was stuck in the intense cold for a long time with no idea what to do. I felt completely alone.

That was really a true low moment for me because it was the first time I felt truly and utterly enclosed in this world of blindness. I’d not had my sight for more than two years, but I’d never experienced that feeling before. The closest thing I could compare it to is claustrophobia. It’s like being in a box you can’t escape from, and then realizing you’ll never escape.

This wasn’t about dealing with the short-term frustration associated with banging my head on something, it was about experiencing the deep loss of my independence. Those are the moments that every newly blind person experiences at some point, but for two years, I had avoided.

Over time, though, I’ve learned that when you allow your mind to be consumed by The Delta, and you get so angry over what you can no longer do, life becomes almost unlivable. So I’ve had to train myself to accept the reality of my situation and take more ownership over what I can control. And because of this, my attachment to the swimming pool and competition has only grown.

The first year was tough, but the second year was a little better, and over time you just try to build up more skills and learn more tricks to make life easier.

Since I stood on that podium in London, I’ve gone through the process of truly learning to accept my blindness and be at peace with it. Because of that, I particularly look forward to swimming in this next Paralympics in 2016. When I get into that pool in Rio, I will do so with a new outlook and focused goal. I can see it all so clearly.

Maryland Becomes the First State to Require Disability Training for Cops

Originaly published at: http://www.care2.com/causes/maryland-becomes-the-first-state-to-require-disability-training-for-cops.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+c2causes+%28Causes%29

In 2013, Robert Saylor went to see a showing of Zero Dark Thirty with his aide, and when the film finished, he was unwilling to leave the theater. After staffers called police, his aide warned that he didn’t like to be touched, but police officers grabbed the 26-year-old man, who had Down syndrome, ultimately restraining him because he was struggling under their hands.

Within minutes, he was experiencing respiratory distress, and he ultimately died after police and medical responders were unable to resuscitate him. He joined the long list of people killed by police in the United States, among whom are many disabled people like him — people who don’t understand orders from police officers, are confused in chaotic environments, and pose no threat to anyone but still find themselves classified as dangerous.

The case was a watershed moment for the State of Maryland, even after a grand jury predictably failed to indict the officers involved. Disability advocates were furious, and pressured the state to take action to prevent future incidents. The response: a disability sensitivity training program, the first of its kind in the nation, which includes a four hour intensive to discuss issues specific to the disability community and how to interact with disabled people, including those with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities, on the job.

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Moreover, the program is particularly unique because of who is taking a starring role in the leadership and teaching: disabled people themselves. Self-advocates are active at every step of the way to provide information to police about how they perceive the world, so that officers can make smart choices about how to engage when they know a subject is disabled or suspect disability may be clouding a situation.

Police officers are expected to respond very rapidly to situations they may not fully understand, with a focus on public health and safety. This can come into direct conflict with some disabled people, like D/deaf people who don’t hear or understand orders from police officers, developmentally disabled people who may reach for objects on an officer’s belt out of curiosity, combative mentally ill people confused because they are experiencing breaks with reality and psychosis, intellectually disabled people who don’t understand questions, or cognitively disabled people who become distressed in crowded and chaotic situations. Many law enforcement agencies have little to no training in disability issues like these, and the cost is high for disabled people.

Maryland will be the first state in the country to require police officers to undergo disability sensitivity training across the state. Some counties have already started training their officers in conformity with guidelines legislators are still hammering out, and the training will have secondary benefits too. Police officers in the program receive what’s called deescalation training, in which they work with subjects to defuse a situation using neutral, nonviolent means.

This guidance will be useful not just in situations where police interact with disabled people, but more broadly. Teaching police to turn to nonviolent methods that involve communicating with subjects to understand a situation and get control is important — especially in the state where Freddie Gray died, illustrating that police officers do not have a handle on dealing with subjects responsibly.

The inclusion of self-advocates will hopefully prove to be a model for similar programs elsewhere. Disabled people are often left out of conversations like these, represented by people speaking for them. Being able to interact with police allows them to engage in their communities, raise issues that nondisabled people might not consider, and connect with law enforcement to humanize the face of disability.

Police officers who actually meet disabled people will be better-equipped to interact with them in the outside world. Depending on the outcome of Maryland’s training, hopefully other states will use its legislation as a model for putting similar measures in place, making the streets safer for disabled people.

US Embassy denies blind Ghanaians visas for conference

Originaly published at: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/US-Embassy-denies-blind-Ghanaians-visas-for-conference-460140

All but three of 30 blind persons who applied for visas to attend the World Blind Union Conference in the United States have been denied, Concerned Persons with Disabilities, said on Tuesday.

“We express our utter shock, surprise and disappointment at the manner the US Embassy in Ghana has dealt with the Visual Impaired Applicants who intend to travel to the US to the World Blind Union organized Conference,” spokesperson of the group, Adongo Atule Jacob said.

He told Adom News that the conference sought to improve the quality of life of blind persons and those with low vision people by providing a common platform for advocates, policy makers, consumers and service providers discuss pertinent issues.

The forum, expected to take off on August 18 in the US, would serve as a major platform for the stakeholders to expand both inter-regional and international networks, share information and learn about new techniques and service models.

But, Mr Jacob said, out of 30 visually impaired persons who have applied for the non-immigrant visa to attend the conference, only three have been granted visas, without granting same to their guides and wondered how they could be aided at the conference.

He said the Embassy’s action contravened Article 9 (2) e and Article (19) b of the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities and its optional protocol.
“Our investigation showed that all Visually Impaired Persons were assigned to one specific cage and [an African American] interviewer whilst for non-persons with disabilities, their names where mentioned out and assigned to different cages,” he said.

He called on the US embassy officials to investigate and grant the people deemed qualified the visas since the US prides itself as a defender of rights of the minority.

“The Visually Impaired Persons are not against the Embassy not granting a visa to applicants who do not qualify but rather against the discriminatory nature of which People with visual impairment have been denied visas,” Mr Jacob said.

He noted that blind persons have attended several conferences in Denmark, Switzerland and other developed countries including the UK and have returned, so disqualifying them on the basis of not having strong ties to their country of origin is untenable.

They have threatened legal action against the Embassy.

Air Canada amps up inflight entertainment accessibility for visually impaired

Originaly published at: https://www.thestar.com/business/2016/08/03/air-canada-amps-up-inflight-entertainment-accessibility-for-visually-impaired.html

The company announced its commitment to making all inflight entertainment systems accessible across its fleet of aircraft.

A human rights complaint filed against Air Canada has been resolved with the carrier promising to make its inflight entertainment systems accessible to visually impaired passengers.

Two Ontario residents filed a complaint against Air Canada with the Canadian Human Rights Commission after finding they were unable to use the airline’s touchscreen system to access movies and other diversions during their flights.

The complainants contended they were being deprived of a service that was available to other passengers and urged Air Canada to adopt a system with push buttons and other tactile indicators.

Air Canada has since announced it’s committing to making all inflight entertainment systems accessible across its fleet of aircraft.

The airline has already made changes to the systems in use on its 787 and 777 aircraft and promises future planes set for delivery in 2017 will be equipped with accessible technology.

The passengers who filed the human rights complaint say the settlement has exceeded their expectations.

“We never thought that they would go as far as confirming that everything from now on would be accessible,” plaintiff Marcia Yale said in a telephone interview.

“That’s more than we ever could have hoped for.”

Yale said her grievance with Air Canada began about eight years ago when she discovered the airline had made changes to its inflight entertainment systems.

Instead of the push-button controls she was accustomed to using to scroll through movies and TV shows, she said she was chagrined to discover a new touch-screen system on the back of the seat in front of her.

The new design prevented her from navigating the various menus or browsing through available channels, which in turn left her feeling shortchanged.

“We’re paying the same money for travel and we’re not getting the same service,” Yale said of the situation at the time.

Yale soon joined forces with John Rae, a fellow member of the Alliance for the Equality of Blind Canadians, to file a joint complaint through the Human Rights Commission.

Air Canada did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but Yale said the airline initially defended its practice by contending that inflight entertainment was not part of the service they provided because the hardware was built into the aircraft.

Yale said the company did make moves to address their concerns, however, by designing a template that could fit overtop of the touchscreen and provide a tactile frame of reference.

Air Canada issued a statement saying no inflight entertainment systems on the market today are currently designed to be accessible to the visually impaired, forcing the company to get creative internally.

The company said it adapted the current system, provided by Panasonic, to make it accessible. Yale said the new system now features a hand-held remote control, as well as audio functions that can be enabled through the touchscreen.

“We are extremely proud to have a creative and innovative team that was able to develop these solutions over the years. As technology evolves, we are hopeful that (inflight entertainment) systems manufacturers will follow our lead,” said Eric Lauzon, Air Canada’s manager of multimedia entertainment.

Enhancements to inflight entertainment and other seemingly secondary services will be crucial for airlines that hope to stay competitive, says one analyst.

Barry Prentice, professor with the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, said air carriers increasingly struggle to compete on price.

This forces airlines to make themselves more attractive through offerings such as food and drink menus, low baggage charges or quality of inflight entertainment, he said.

“Accessibility for the visually impaired is an example of nonprice competition that could be difficult for a competing airline to offer, or at least to do so at the same cost,” Prentice said.

The Enlightenment and visual impairment

Originaly published at: http://blog.oup.com/2016/07/blindness-and-the-enlightenment/

Blindness is a recurrent image in Enlightenment rhetoric. It is used in a political context to indicate a lack of awareness, seen in a letter from Edmund Burke to the chevalier de La Bintinnaye, in poetic rhetoric, with the stories of the blind poets Milton, Homer, and Ossian circulating among the intelligentsia of the time, or simply as a physical irritation, when writers with long lives and extensive correspondences frequently complained of their eyesight deteriorating.

The reception of those with total blindness, however, changed during the course of the long eighteenth century. The experiences of three people (acknowledged as blind) serves to show the ways Enlightenment thinkers, and eighteenth century society in general, responded to those who were rendered separate by their blindness.

The first is John Vermaasen, who plays a small but fascinating role in the evolution of Enlightenment epistemology, appearing as a living thought experiment in Robert Boyle’s Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours (1665). An organist, Vermaasen was blind from the age of two. He came to the attention of Robert Boyle when it was discovered that he had what may be considered a case of synaesthesia; he was able (allegedly) to experience colours using his sense of touch. When presented with a selection of coloured ribbons, and asked to give their colour, Vermaasen would “place them betwixt the Thumb and the Fore-finger…his most exquisite perception was in his Thumb, and much better in the right Thumb than in the left” (Robert Boyle, Experiments, p. 45) and then describe the colours to Boyle and his companion, determining them on the basis of the asperity, or roughness, of the material. Boyle was also sent another anecdote about an encounter with Vermaasen by Henry Oldenburg, in 1665.

Boyle would go on to use this experiment to hypothesise a continuity between the experiences of the five senses, a concept that would have a profound impact on the investigation into the nature of empiricism conducted by figures such as David Hume, George Berkeley, and the French Philosophes in the eighteenth century, most notably Denis Diderot, who in 1749 would write his Letter on the Blind, advancing a theory of education for the blind based on these principles.

A less endearing postscript to this story comes from Jonathan Swift, who included a possible reference to Vermaasen in Gulliver’s Travels (1726), as part of his satirical portrait of the Royal Society in the academy of Lagado (Bk. III: Ch.5), implying that Swift, at least, didn’t believe a word of Boyle’s story:

“There was a man born blind, who had several apprentices in his own condition: their employment was to mix colours for painters, which their master taught them to distinguish, by feeling and smelling. It was indeed my misfortune to find them at that time not very perfect in their lessons, and the professor himself happened to be generally mistaken. This artist is much encouraged and esteemed by the whole fraternity.”
— Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, Bk. III: Ch.5

We can see the identity of Vermaasen being torn between the theoretical implications of his synaesthesia and his own playful means of adapting that synaesthesia into a self-representation of his own. Ultimately though, as far as we can tell, his blindness does not appear to have damaged his professional or social life. It was transcended by the unique and philosophically interesting sensory experiences he had in place of sight.

Thomas Blacklock (1721-1791), nineteenth-century engraving based on eighteenth-century painting. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Thomas Blacklock (1721-1791), nineteenth-century engraving based on eighteenth-century painting. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The same cannot be said for the second of our cases, however: Thomas Blacklock. Blacklock was a Scottish poet and clergyman who lost his sight to smallpox in infancy, but went on to become an advocate and pioneer of unique educational techniques for the blind. In 1760, he was nominated to the ministry of Kirkcudbright, only to find his potential congregation turned against him because of his blindness, creating an environment so toxic that his ordination was delayed until 1762, and he was only able to hold the position for three years, before resigning in 1765.

Blacklock’s understandable outrage at this rejection manifested itself in a satirical poem which he wrote in 1765, but which remained unpublished until 1903, so damning was it of the members of his congregation who had rejected him, out of nothing more than a prejudice against his blindness. This satire, called ‘Pistapolis’, is filled with evocations of the aural nature of sermonizing, highlighting the degree to which sight is irrelevant. A typical stanza runs as follows, addressing the poetic Muse:

“…if in thy view their procession should pass,
Though thy Tongue were of Iron, and thy Lungs were of brass,
To praise them in strains, like thy subject refin’d,
Were to p—ss in the ocean, or f—rt at the wind.”
— ‘Pistapolis’, (1765), unpub.

Though he was clearly embittered by his experiences, Blacklock went on to re-invent himself under the patronage of the poet and essayist James Beattie, becoming an expert on Scottish musical culture at Marischal College, Aberdeen, again exploiting his finely tuned ear.

In the case of Blacklock, we can see the liberating potential in the Enlightenment, particularly in Scotland. Blacklock was able to realize his secular, religious, and pedagogical potential by turning to the figures of the Scottish Enlightenment like James Beattie. He was able to move towards improving society for those marginalized like himself through a programme of pedagogy and publication, an early form of disability rights activist.

Later in the eighteenth century support for the blind became institutionalized. However, this also had its limitations. Anna Williams (our third case) was a Welsh poet who lost her sight later in life, and was given an annuity to support her by the bluestocking socialite and Shakespeare critic Elizabeth Montagu. In a letter of thanks, Williams says:

“I may with truth say I have not words to express my Gratitude as I ought, to a Lady whose bounty has by one act of benevolence doubled my Income, & whose tender Compassionate assurances, has removed the future anxiety of trusting to Chance, the terror of which only Could have prompted me to stand a publick Candidate for Mr Hetheringtons Bounty.”

Elizabeth Montagu, mezzotint engraving, John Raphael Smith, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, mezzotint, published 10 April 1776 (1775). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Elizabeth Montagu, mezzotint engraving, by John Raphael Smith, after a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, published 10 April 1776. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
It is the reference to Hetherington’s Bounty which is particularly significant here. This was an annuity of £10, to be given to one of 50 blind people “objects of charity, not being beggars, nor receiving alms from the parish” (London Evening Post, 29 March 1774–31 March 1774) from a bequest of £20,000 given by Hetherington to Christ Church Hospital. While Hetherington’s intentions were praised as noble, the extent to which his charitable donations were able to ameliorate the conditions of those both poor and blind in London as a whole was called into question.

The celebrated philanthropist Jonas Hanway quantified the blind poor of the metropolis, organizing them into categories based on age and ability to sustain themselves. Hanway finds that the poor urban blind in need of Hetherington’s bequest amounted to over 600, concluding that “we must turn our thoughts to a more practicable mode, distinguishing the most distressed, and appealing to the most affluent and charitable” (Jonas Hanway, Defects, p. 262).

Anna Williams is clearly aware of the excessive demand being placed on the Hetherington annuity, as well as its informal process of deciding who was a valid candidate, claiming that submitting to it would be “trusting to Chance”, making it little more than a lottery.

Thus we can see, in these three stories, the ways in which those recognized as blind responded to the changes in society within their own communities and times across the period of the Enlightenment. Vermaasen recognized the public and philosophical potential of his unique sensory gift, and exploited it to build an identity in the early Enlightenment scientific drive to investigate and elucidate the strange or unknown of the previous generation. Blacklock saw the potential in new secular power structures developing in the universities and formal or informal circles of intellectual patronage to develop a political and pedagogical identity outside of the church. Williams, while herself benefitting from the informal patronage of the eighteenth century social network, was witness to the burgeoning impersonal, “telescopic philanthropy”, which would become a standard model of Victorian social enterprise.

– See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2016/07/blindness-and-the-enlightenment/#sthash.WYgi4dyc.dpuf