Monday, February 04, 2008

Blind acupuncturist

A woman in Austin is trying to get licensed as an acupuncturist. She was turned down the first time, despite passing her classes and test, for the simple reason that she is blind.

My first impression, gathered from the article I read, was that the state licensing board was acting out of prejudice:

Meng-sheng Lin is the licensure committee chairwoman, and the Dallas acupuncturist said she's inclined to repeat her vote against [Juliana] Cumbo's application.

She said she's trying to fulfill her duty to protect the public.

Lin said acupuncture can lead to bleeding that if unnoticed could pose a contamination risk.

Good grief. A blind acupuncturist might cause bleeding? Heck, my sole experience with acupuncture was with a sighted acupuncture student, who seemingly mistook me for a voodoo doll. I have complete confidence that a blind person couldn't do any worse, and might potentially do something novel, like pay attention to what they were doing. I would sooner try it again with Ms. Cumbo.

But maybe I'm just being silly. Maybe, like piloting a starship*, acupuncture is one of those things that blind people just can't do.

But, no, apparently my first impression was the right one. Google Book Search brings me Understanding Acupuncture, by Stephen Birch and Robert Felt. In Box 3.2 on page 96, they relate Birch's "good fortune" in studying with a blind acupuncturist. Perhaps the Texas licensing board should buy themselves a few copies of this book.

There's a whole tradition in Japan of acupuncture being done by blind practioners. Some fellow named Waichi Sugiyama invented the insertion tube for the needles way back in the 1600s. Did I mention he was blind? He then went on to found acupuncture schools to teach the craft to others who were blind. Both the Kiiko and Toyohari acupunture styles were developed by blind acupuncturists, though also taught to those who have the misfortune of being distracted by vision. A third of all Japanese practioners are blind.

I'm now seriously wondering about the credentials of the Texas acupuncture licensing board if they don't know this history already.

edited 2/9/08 when I finally remembered the wording I was going to use


*Star Trek, Original Series, "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" Dr. McCoy reveals Miranda Jones' blindness when she demands to be taught to navigate the ship. I rather like the episode overall--McCoy felt that her blindness was nobody's business up to that point. Maybe few writers in the 1960s just could imagine adaptive technology well enough to consider that perhaps blindness might not be the barrier they thought it must always be to driving anything? Aside from that, the message of the episode, that pity is inappropriate and serves to hinder the person objectified with pity, is well done. Jones has the regular assemblage of human failings, which drive her relationships and behavior, but among them is not her blindness. If she has a "handicap," it would be her telepathy--the superhuman sense she has--because it makes her extremely uncomfortable around other people. But that, too, is accepted as just part of "infinite diversity." OK, enough geeking out. Well, for the moment.


Emma said...

Of course, go to first season ST:TNG and you've got your blind man piloting the ship (and then as chief engineer) - and everyone knows that he's blind. By that time, however he's "not blind" so to speak because of the VISOR - the disability isn't a big deal because it is comparatively "cured". In later episodes they go so far as to have his blindness/the visor give them advantages - and of course, show them have difficult "seeing" is for him (wish i could remember what episode that was) How does that compare with the original series in your opinion? I'm not sure what to think of that; but I do find it interesting.

Sorry to geek out in your comments,


Emma said...

Ok, back again. The two episodes I was thinking of were "Heart of Glory" and "In The Mind's Eye". But going to the star trek wiki it looks like there are more.

I might have to write a post about disability and star trek, i'm intrigued now.

yanub said...

I've long been planning on talking about disability and Star Trek myself. I don't really know TNG as well as TOS.

OK, less planning and procrastinating. More actually doing it.

yanub said...

Oh, and geeking out is welcome anytime.

David McDonald said...

Makes perfect sense to me that someone with blindness would make a good accupuncturist. In many situations fingers can serve as eyes.

yanub said...

David, not only can fingers serve as eyes, sometimes they are better than eyes, I think. Even for me, who isn't blind, there are times when my fingers find things that my eyes cannot. And my typing is always worse when I watch it. I have no trouble believing that someone who can't see would have learned how to pay attention to touch much better than I have, and excel at work that relies mostly on touch. And I think that acupuncture is likely one of those things. Those of us who can see tend to not comprehend how much of what we do is based on touch, and how poor eyesight is for a substitute. But just try to do a little embroidery with a bandaged fingertip, and soon you are giving up. It isn't the eyes that know how, but the skin.

Robert said...

The odd thing is that the practitioners who countered Juliana’s licensure had no awareness of the some 30,000 visually disabled practitioners in Japan. There are two Universities of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China that are conducting acupuncture programs for the visually disabled. The culture of the visually disabled is different than that of the visually able person. Touch, sound and smell are heightened in a way that is difficult to imagine. Consider attempting to read Braille. The Japanese have used acupuncture as a means of employment for the blind since the Edo Period (1603-1867).