Blindness is not as scary as the movies or TV would have you believe, according to Susan Mazrui, director of global public policy for AT&T. “You just have to do things differently. I wouldn’t want to minimize the challenge, but blind people are capable of anything except driving — that is until self-driving cars become available,” she joked.

“Disability is just another characteristic, and it can be celebrated,” she said.

Susan, a 25-year veteran of AT&T should know. Blind since age 17, she has redefined “possible” in an accessible environment and supportive community. In October, she will have plenty of occasions to celebrate the accomplishments of blind and low vision people and educate the wider community.

Known as Blind Awareness Month (#blindawarenessmonth), October includes many special days and weeks dedicated to increasing understanding, expanding access and cultivating inclusion for people who are blind or have low vision.  Among them:

  • Meet the Blind Month (#MeettheBlind), October: The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), founded in 1940, is the oldest and largest U.S.-based organization of blind Americans. The NFB celebrates Meet the Blind Month every October. Through organized Twitter chats and community-based outreach activities, the organization takes this opportunity to engage its members and educate the public.
  • National Braille Week (#NationalBrailleWeek), Oct. 7-13, 2019: Organized by the U.K.-based organization, Royal Blind, National Braille Week raises awareness about the importance of braille and other alternative formats that open up the written world to people with low or no vision. The week features opportunities for individuals, organizations and schools across the U.K. and beyond to get involved in promoting braille.
  • White Cane Safety Day (#WhiteCaneSafetyDay), Oct. 15: First signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Oct. 15, 1964, White Cane Safety Day has celebrated the achievements of blind and low vision people and promoted equal opportunities ever since.

In 2011, President Barack Obama issued the first annual Presidential Proclamation for Blind Americans Equality Day. With this act, a new presidential tradition of formally acknowledging Oct. 15 as a special day to support the rights of people who are blind and low vision was born. Today, both names are used interchangeably to mark the importance of this community and advocate for equal access. By either name, Oct. 15 remains a day for government entities and local communities across the U.S. to celebrate and acknowledge people with low or no vision.

Together, these occasions present an opportunity to learn about those facing visual challenges and to expand our empathy for others. While optimistic that the world is changing for the better, Susan said we still have a long way to go. “I look forward to a day when blindness is viewed as a characteristic one may have — another aspect of diversity to be celebrated,” she said. “I think this will come as other companies follow AT&T’s leadership with strong Accessibility and Inclusion programs. Once we all understand that disability is part of diversity, people will feel more comfortable sharing that they have a disability.”  

But change often starts on a smaller scale. What is one awareness would Susan like to extend to sighted people this October? “Scooter and bicycles,” she said. “With sustainability on the rise, which is great, scooters and bicycles are being used more and more. But people leave them everywhere and may not stop to think about the obstacles they create for blind and low vision people -- or those who use wheelchairs.”

Communicating with the blind and low vision

Courtesy of the National Federation of the Blind: Our sighted friends often ask for advice regarding what they should do or say when meeting a blind person. Blind people are ordinary people, so please don't be nervous around us. We are also highly capable people, so please don’t grab our arms, our canes, or our guide dogs if we haven't asked you to do so. For more tips, we invite you to read our courtesy rules of blindness.

Recognizing Blind Awareness Month

Throughout October, take advantage of the many opportunities to learn more and get involved. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Start a discussion with someone in your life. If you are blind or have low vision, ask this person how much they know about blindness, what they aren't sure about and if they have questions. If you are not, reach out and ask someone who is blind or has low vision about their experiences.
  2. Learn more. Listen to a podcast, watch a video or read a blog post that is blindness-related. The National Federation of the Blind, American Foundation of the Blind, and Blind New World  offer great places to get started.
  3. Share your own story of blindness or low vision and how it has impacted your life. This could be a Facebook post, outreach at a local organization, a Youtube video or just talking with friends.
  4. Advocate for safety and accessibility by speaking with others and encouraging them to keep walkways, crosswalks and paths free and clear – no scooters!
  5. Use social media to connect with others around the world who are celebrating and to let people know more about blindness in general. In addition to the hashtags listed above, try: #blindawarenessmonth #blindnessawarenessmonth #lowvison and #blindness.