Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are Agencies Really Acting in Our Best Interest?

by Donna J. Jodhan

This question has lingered in my mind for many years now and it is a very troubling one. I know that there are many persons with disabilities who continue to ask the same question and I am afraid that the reader may not like the answer. That is, if you are a person with a disability, you would most likely agree with me but for the mainstream reader, you may be either surprised or dare to call me a pessimist or even a grouch or maybe something stronger.

It does not matter which country we look at here, the answer would still be the same. As a generality, most persons with disabilities truly believe that agencies that are supposed to be working on behalf of their best interests, often really do not. Many have told me that they do not believe that agencies have the right to speak on their behalf and I do agree. However, what bothers me greatly are those agencies that deliberately turn away from providing appropriate and useful services for us. In my case, I am referring to agencies that go out there and make the appearance of advocating for blind and visually impaired persons.

As someone who has traveled to several countries, I have had the opportunity to see first hand how agencies interact with their clients and it seems to be a common theme that exists here in Canada and extends to the United States and beyond. To put it mildly, agencies really do not have much respect for their clients. They generally treat them like second class citizens; they do everything in their power to make clients dependent on them, and they do not seem able to generate employment opportunities for their clients, both internally and externally.

There are a few heated opinions that I, as both an accessibility consultant and a visually impaired person would like to bring to your attention on this day. I will note here that these opinions are not just mine but those of several friends and clients who have taken the time to share with me.

First, many agencies are being run by staff that are really not too savvy when it comes to understanding how they should be interacting with the real world. Their ideas and strategies are ancient and out of date and it is probably why so many fail in their attempts to be successful.

Second, many agencies seem unwilling to hire the appropriate staff to provide the necessary services. In addition, they seem very unwilling to hire persons with disabilities and I am not very sure why. They seem to prefer hiring under qualified persons to be a part of their team.

Third, too many of these agencies seem to feel that portraying an image of asking for handouts from both governments and the public at large is a better route to go rather than trying to be as independent as possible.

Fourth, too many of these agencies continue to be bogged down in red tape and because of this they are unable to take advantage of opportunities that could help them to be better positioned in a real world.

Fifth, When it comes to interacting with the outside world, many of these agencies seem to be at a loss. They often do not treat their volunteers with much respect, and they fail to realize that timely and courteous responses are what count.

So many times I have seen agencies in Canada fall into these traps and through personal experiences with some agencies in Britain and America, I have seen the same. They really do not understand how to interact with the rest of the world. They are caught up in red tape and internal politics and this prevents them from being able to blend in. Several clients have told me that some of these agencies even go as far as using their clients to gain funding from governments and others. That is, using creative paperwork to make others believe that they are providing certain services when in actuality they are not. So, what is the consensus here? Do agencies on the whole really act in our best interest?

I put this question to our esteemed panel of wise ones and the overwhelming consensus was as follows: It does not really matter which country we look at, it is the same. Most agencies that go out there and advocate for the needs of their clients do a very poor job. They fall short on being able to interact effectively with their clients, their staff, and the rest of the world. Their attitude of constantly seeking handouts from governments and the public often gets in the way of their image. Their executive bodies do not seem to have a clue as to how to design and develop plans that would make them more of a business-run entity rather than as an agency depending on the charity of others.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan, an accessibility and special needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all:
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility:
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns:

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