Friday, April 4, 2008

Acupuncture Board: Blind Need Not Apply

Acupuncture is an 8000 year old medical treatment. The first record of an acupuncturist who was blind occurred during the Edo Period (about 1600), though blind individuals likely practiced before that.

Acupuncturists who are blind make up about 30% of all licensed acupuncturists in Japan. They work alongside their sighted peers in private practice and at clinics and hospitals throughout the country. There are even schools that specialize in teaching blind students the skill. They hold the same licenses, earn the same wages, and charge the same fees as any sighted acupuncturist.Photo of Juliana Cumbo.

But none of that has helped Juliana Cumbo, who has a master's degree from Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin Texas; she also served her internship there. In addition, she passed the Texas State Board Exams. She has been blind since she was ten years old.

Will Morris, President of the Academy said, "Juliana is an exemplary practitioner ... and she is extremely talented... I am proud to sign her diploma."

An article in Austin's American-Statesman by Mary Ann Roser explains:

As a student, Cumbo completed 3,218 hours of training, about a third of which was clinical experience in which she worked on 592 patients without any formal safety complaints, said Xiaotian Shen, the clinic's director and one of Cumbo's teachers.

Shen said he was initially concerned about whether Cumbo could practice safely.

Instructors gave her more hands-on training, Shen said, including guiding her hands to the proper points on patients' bodies. Cumbo's fellow students made strings with knots and placed them on models to mark the spots, he said.

Cumbo is now better at finding acupuncture points than many students who can see, Morris said.

But, being exemplary and passing the state licensing exam wasn't good enough for the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners.* They denied her license in October 2007. Meng-sheng Lin, chairwoman of the licensing committee told Cumbo, "I'm really concerned about you ... both you and the public."

Oh God, Save Us from Patronizing Bureaucrats

There is nothing in the state law that prevents the board from licensing a person who is blind. However some of the state board members said they have "concerns" about letting a blind person "putting needles" in a patient.

Of all the condescending clap-trap this one has to rank right up there with the worst. Blah! Apparently if you are a person with a disability, not even 400 years of success is enough to sway a bigot about our ability to do a job well.

When Juliana Cumbo heard the board's decision she started to cry. She appealed the decision. In February, 2008 Texas state officials voted to have two neutral observers evaluate Cumbo's skills to determine whether she would become the first blind person licensed in Texas as an acupuncturist.

This is not a requirement for any other prospective candidate. Members of the school spoke in favor of her application. However, one acupuncture patient said she could not imagine having someone blind treat her. Well, by all means, that ought to carry more weight than the opinion of her teachers and peers.

One member of the licensing board said blind people aren't allowed to fly planes or drive — nor should they be allowed to stick needles in people. The school should not have enrolled Cumbo in the first place, "I feel my acupuncture board is the victim." (Emphasis added.)

I guess the election boards in 1950s Mississippi spoke with the same impunity and audacity about people of color voting. Their election boards were being victimized by would-be black voters.

Cumbo's lawyer, David Cohen of Austin, is quoted that the decision "does appear to be an extra burden placed on her" that other licensees don't face. He has said the board's denial of a license on the basis of blindness alone could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and be potential grounds for a lawsuit. Duh... ya think?

Cumbo has a job offer waiting for her once she becomes licensed.


Dear Juliana,

Unfortunately, the board of examiners do not care if you did your best. All they care about is holding on to their preconceived notions of what you, as a person with a disability, can and cannot do.

Facing discrimination and bigotry is an overwhelming and degrading experience. I am sorry that happened. But do not waste your tears on the ignorance of others. Don't cry; fight it!

I know you did not set out to be a disability rights activist. You were just going about your life, working on your life goals... and then you hit this bump. Once you get your license, I hope you can fade back into any life you choose. But for now, the disability rights movement is pulling for you and your rights.

You are not alone. Tell us, your brothers and sisters in the disability community what we can do to change this injustice that was thrust upon you. We can raise our voice with you and work together to change this injustice.

And when you get your license... I'm coming to Austin. "Cause, ya see, Doc... I have these pains in my legs..."

In struggle together,
Cilla Sluga
AKA Big Noise


Members of the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners are:

  • Sheng Ting (Sam) Chen, (Public Member) of Austin
  • Chung-Hwei Chernly, L.Ac. (Acupuncturist) of Hurst
  • Donald Ray Counts, M.D. (Physician Member) of Austin
  • Pedro (Pete) of V. Garcia, Jr. (Public Member) of Frisco
  • Raymond J. Graham (Public Member) of El Paso
  • Hoang Xiong Ho, L.Ac. (Acupuncturist) of San Antonio
  • Terry Glenn Rascoe, M.D. (Physician and Presiding Officer) of Temple
  • Executive Director - Donald W. Patrick, M.D., J.D.
  • Presiding Officer - Terry Glenn Rascoe, M.D.
  • Secretary – Treasurer - Pedro (Pete) V. Garcia, Jr.


Anonymous said...

"... one acupuncture patient said she could not imagine having someone blind treat her ..."

methinks that Juliana needs this tee shirt that says, "I refuse to be limited by your imagination"


Karen said...

It's amazing how she has to prove herself over and over-- we don't ask this of able-bodied people...

Jeremy Cumbo said...

My name is Jeremy Cumbo. I'm Juliana Cumbo's husband. I discovered your post while searching for another regarding my amazing wife. I just wanted to thank you for your support (and for your wonderful website); it means an immense amount to me and to Juliana to know that we're not alone in the fight for equality and sanity. I'll show this to Juliana and put her in touch. Thanks!!

(Oh, and I think i'll get one of those t-shirts. Maybe Juliana can wear it to the next board meeting!)

Charlene D. said...

Hi Jules & Jeremy! It's Charlene (from VCU '95-'00). I was so upset to find this article about what you are going through. If I've ever known ANYONE who could do ANYTHING, it's you Juliana! I know it's been a long time since we've been in touch, but please know that I am rooting for you all the way. Please don't give up. You WILL be the first acupuncturist who is blind to be licensed. Congratulations of receiving your Master's. Overcoming this obstacle will be something that you will add to the list of amazing things you have accomplished in your lifetime. Peace and Love to you, Jeremy, and your families. Charlene D.

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