Earth & Conservation

The Woman Who's Demystifying The Blind

The mother of a blind son just launched a campaign, BlindNewWorld, that aims to make sighted people more aware and inclusive of the blind.

<p>Photo: BlindNewWorld Campaign // Corinne Grousbeck with her son and daughter</p>

There are 7 million blind people in the United States, but only 40 percent of them are part of the workforce, severely prohibiting their exposure to the sighted world. It's often assumed that blind people are not capable of most daily tasks, or of leading fulfilled and happy lives. This leads them to be ostracized from the professional world -- and they're often socially excluded as well.

Corinne Grousbeck, chair of the Board of Trustees for the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass, wants to change these damaging biases of the blind with her new campaign BlindNewWorld.

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"Right now there's about zero awareness, so the benchmark is low," Grousbeck said. BlindNewWorld uses a third-party researcher to conduct pre- and post-awareness studies so they can measure the success of the campaign, which also gathers stories from companies across the country who have changed their hiring process to be more accessible to the blind.

Grousbeck's son Campbell was diagnosed with Leber congenital amaurosis, a recessive gene for blindness, shortly after he was born. By the time he was 2 years old his sight was completely gone.

She quickly realized that her son's success in life was going to be tougher than she imagined -- not because of his blindness, but because of the way the sighted world viewed him. When they were out in public she noticed that people would constantly stare at him.

Even in his adult life -- Campbell is now 23 -- Grousbeck saw him being treated differently because of his blindness. He was the first blind student to complete his vocational training program, but when he initially started the program, he wasn't receiving any homework assignments. Grousbeck reached out to the school and discovered that he wasn't getting homework assignments because it was all done online, and the teacher assumed he couldn't read or write emails.

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Campbell, in fact, uses a computer with voice dictation. And Apple's Siri has allowed Campbell to communicate through text messages, something he was never able to do before. "The first time I got a text from him I cried," she said. Technology like this is allowing blind people to be more independent than ever before.

In the research she did for this campaign, Grousbeck found many people who admitted to being uncomfortable around the blind. Some even said they didn't believe they could ever be truly happy if they were blind themselves. She hopes the campaign will help change that perception and will demystify blindness as much as possible.

Grousbeck has found the most successful techniques to be exposure and communication. "Campbell is a preschool teacher. He talks to the kids about his blindness and allows them to ask questions," she said. The ability to ask questions about it makes it a lot less intimidating. It's just a normal part of life for millions of people.

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The BlindNewWorld campaign is largely taking place online because Grousbeck knows that the internet is where millennials are. From the Black Lives Matter movement to recent wins for the LGBT community, millennials are making real change. BlindNewWorld is encouraging blind people to share videos or photos of themselves, telling the world their story, in an effort to demonstrate that they're not so different from sighted people after all.

Grousbeck has dedicated much of her life to improving the world for blind people, and she says there's still much to do: "I will not stop working until the world is a better place for my son."

To learn more about about the different variations of human eyesight, check out this DNews video: