Without Hope, Life in the Settlement for the Blind

by Inna Cazpovich

Copyright © 1995, 2010
National Federation of the Blind

          From the Associate Editor: The following article is reprinted from a periodical entitled Soviet Youth. It was translated from the Russian by Eugene Soldatjonok. It is a grim reminder of how far the blind of the United States have come. Here it is:

          In this dormitory at 14 Pales Street everything is typical of such Soviet institutions. The only shower is closed because of cosmetic repairs to the building, which last for several months. There is one bathroom in the whole building; it is in such condition that for a weak, nervous person it is better to stay away. Especially sensitive ones wash themselves at the toilet under the faucet. (There are several taps!)

          It is unusual in this uncomfortable building that people living here do not see this whole nightmare. It is not surprising that they don't notice because the inhabitants are blind. That is why they are forgotten as people. All of them are from Latvia. They abandoned their flats and moved to the settlement for the blind in Riga because only at the settlement could they find any occupation. Edite fell ill when she was graduating from a medical institute. With nearly lost sight, she was treated for an illness, sitting at home for three years, and then she decided to move here with hope to obtain work. Now she is assembling folders.

          "It seems we must be grateful for this," says Edite. "Who needs us at all?"

          Edite told us about difficulties when three of them live in one room and about queues for the kitchen, which cannot accommodate everyone who wants to use it. People without sight cook for themselves. There is a restaurant at the enterprise, but it does not work on the weekends.

          Laima and Peters, a young couple, explain that the building they live in was intended for a workshop, and it is not adaptable for living. The couple has a baby; there are swaddling clothes hanging everywhere in the room. They complain of a mode of life, but I'm withholding their intonation: "We shall live here eternally. We shall not have anything in our life anymore." They are deprived of any right to get a desirable education. They will have a right to be listed in the queue for a flat only after ten years of living in this dreadful hostel. At least able-bodied persons could change their destiny somehow.

          Iren has lived all her short life in these state homes. She did well in her eight years of boarding school, but she didn't manage to enter the pedagogic college. Now she is living at the hostel and assembles brushes. She will have to wait the ten years to be listed for a flat, doing this, and she will then have a flat with a pension. What is the use of a flat to an old blind woman? Maybe it is easier to be wait-listed to the home of the old ones at once. Iren's brother is eight years old. He does not see as well as his sister does. Now he learns at the common school because a kind teacher has agreed to take trouble with him. But his future will be boarding school and a hostel, too. It is good that this happy blond boy does not know this yet.

          "We don't want to live," says Edite. "There is no way out, even if you smash your head against the wall."

          They propose to Edite to apply to live in a home for old people. There are bedrooms for two, common nutrition, and nursing; but this will be forever. They will never have a right to a flat. Old age pensioners who cannot care for themselves at all live there. The rest prefer to hope, a small belief in a miracle--all of a sudden the rest of the people will think about unhappier ones and will change severe laws. And one day society will recognize that it needs the hands, the minds, and the knowledge of those of us who are not in the mainstream so far.

          "They simply don't know about us," repeats Edite in an anguished manner.

          Remember the disabled ones, you powerful ones! Recall that illness does not have mercy, neither to the poor nor to the rich ones. All are equal in this sense. Trouble could come at any hour.

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