Borderlands of Blindness, by Beth Omansky. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011, hardcover, 310 pages, $55.
Print edition page number(s) 47-48
Borderlands of Blindness is a provocative analysis of how individuals who are legally blind are portrayed by society. Author Beth Omansky contends that legally blind people do not receive the same privileges or educational accommodations as individuals who are "totally blind." She documents how the medical model, with its "ocularcentrist" view has influenced the way in which services are provided to people who are legally blind in education and rehabilitation settings. Using a case-study approach, Omansky examines the life stories of four people who have low vision. She applies a social constructivist theoretical framework for her analysis, which emphasizes the influence of culture on the lifestyles of individuals. Much of the background information presented throughout the text is based on emancipatory disability research principles and phenomenological inquiry. Emancipatory disability research views disability from an empowerment perspective. This form of research evaluates the sociological and psychological barriers faced by individuals who face adversity in their lives. Principles of phenomenological inquiry use qualitative methodologies (observational analysis, personal interviews, and case studies) to examine the personal views portrayed throught the text.
Although the first half of the book provides a strong base in the literature to make the case for why individuals who are legally blind struggle to fit into a blind or sighted world, the life stories of the four participants are not highlighted in great enough detail to verify or reinforce certain points of view. It was disappointing that the author was one of the participants, since she presented a subjective view of her own life experiences.
One cannot disregard the marginal status of people who have low vision. Research in education and rehabilitation has documented that individuals with low vision feel like they are neither blind nor sighted. Often they view themselves as "neither fish or fowl." However, it would have been useful if the author had provided both positive and negative experiences, as well as ways in which the participants were able to cope with specific situations. At times I found it difficult to continue reading the text, because the perspective presented portrayed such a negative view.
Omansky's description of residential schools and services for students with visual impairments in public schools is also offered from a subjective point of view. The information presented in this area was not timely or necessarily accurate. Schools for the blind were, for example, described as institutions that do not allow students to gain independence and allow them to only assume an identity as persons with visual impairments. Quite to the contrary, specialized schools teach in accordance with the expanded core curriculum and have high expectations for students' academic and social performance.
The final section of the book was perhaps the most interesting. In it, the author shared quoted material from each of the participants, including herself. Reading these life stories was fascinating. I wish the book had presented more vignettes and personal views, rather than the author's own point of view, since readers gain so much more from a text when they are able to read a variety of personal stories.
Finally, as a person with low vision who straddles the line of blindness and sightedness myself, I have to confess that my own education and rehabilitation experiences were quite positive. I was given great support and instruction by my teachers of students with visual impairments and general education teachers. I received the materials and devices that I needed to be successful in my academic pursuits. Yes, I dealt with many of the issues described in the text (teasing, passing, group identification, to name a few), but I learned strategies to cope with such adversity and be included by my peers. Instead of viewing the world in a negative light, I chose to take control of my situation, and make a difference in the way I was perceived by others as a person with low vision. I wish Borderlands of Blindness had included such a perspective.
Sharon Sacks, Ph.D., director, Curriculum, Assessment, and Staff Development, California School for the Blind, 500 Walnut Avenue, Fremont, CA 94536; e-mail: <email@example.com>.
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