One of the challenges faced when running Blind With Camera is in understanding and explaining the concept. It is important to overcome this rather than play on the ‘shock value’ of the concept to attract attention.
One may certainly wonder about the reason for such a project. Why the discourse of the uninitiated in a domain where experts prevails? Pundits would question not just ‘how’ but ‘why’ anyone who cannot see would wish to create photographs?
Central to any response to this question must be an understanding that photography is not just the creation of a visual product, but a communicative process that involves all the senses and whose key enabling purpose is as a tool for analysis of ourselves and dialogue with others.
Why anyone who cannot see would create photographs?
- Because they want to experience the “process” of creation more than the final result.
- Because they can take pictures using non-visual senses and cognitive skills.
- Because photographs / art can be made accessable to the visually impaired by adaptive ways.
- To communicate their “mental images” which would otherwise not seen by the sighted.
- To challange perceptions and inspire social change.
Conventional wisdom predetermines what visually impaired people can and cannot do. It predetermines a lack of interest in the field on the part of visually impaired people and their societal acceptance has denied them the experience of learning about art and access to art. Given the high value placed on sight in society and modern visual cultural reinforce the concepts of beauty largely as visual experiences where blind cannot participate and they are supposedly not able to contribute.
Despite India’s rapid economic progress in recent years, India continue to shoulder the world’s largest burden of blindness. It is estimated that in India today over 15 million people are blind, 400,000 of whom are children constituting one fifth of the world’s blind children. Additional millions more suffer from low vision or are at risk of blindness. The majority of these people are needlessly blind, 75% of cases can be prevented or cured with a straight forward and cost-effective treatment.
Lack of interest in art among visually impaired people in India is deeply rooted in our historical, psychological and sociological influences. The prevailing attitude in Indian society is that blind people must rely on the assistance of sighted people for everything from transportation to economic survival. A clear power relationship exists between those who can see and those who cannot, and this relationship creates low societal expectations about what the blind can do. These low expectations create a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle. Most blind Indian are not active in the workforce as potential employers wrongly conclude the blind are incapable of other work, and internalizing this, the blind often underestimate their personal potential.
The biggest challenge for a visually impaired in India is to overcome the barriers of discrimination in education, employment and financial opportunities. In the struggle to have equality, and social and economical independence visually impaired in India has little scope and motivation to enrich their live through art. The lack of importance of artistic expression in visually impaired and their equal access to art and popular culture remains unattended both by organizations working closely with blind community in India and in the government policies.
The Beyond Sight Foundation is the first organisation in India promoting social inclusion of the visually impaired people through the experience of art.