I’ve had a couple of encounters recently that have really made me think, not so much about my blindness as about other people’s reactions to it.
The first was a conversation with a woman I know, a truly kind and compassionate person and, all in all, a decent human being.
We talked about what she’d done over the weekend and this week, about my writing, about family and friends. It was a nice conversation, but something about it bothered me after the fact.
It took a while to tease out what it was, but it finally hit me: In this woman’s mind, I will never be a full-fledged adult human being.
For her, I will always need a certain amount of assistance. MrH will always be my husband–but also, to some extent, my caregiver. My writing and my craft projects will always be hobbies, not quite “real” work. My interests and expertise will always center on my disability, or be limited by it.
I am irreparably diminished, and my lack of eyesight will forever define me.
Now, I want to make it clear that at no point in our conversation did I feel this woman was deliberately slighting or snubbing me. She was gracious and friendly and funny, and I genuinely enjoyed our talk. I think she values me as a human being, and likes me as a person.
But I think on some level, she’s always conscious of my limitations, and sees me through that lens.
An Entirely Different Perspective
The second was another conversation with a different woman I know, another friendly and interesting individual. I don’t know her quite as well, but I hope to remedy that as we keep running into each other.
We talked about her work and my blog, about her other half and my marriage to MrH. I shared my experience getting lost in the rain and being rescued by a stranger.
After we parted company, I realized that I’d been quite comfortable talking with her and that I looked forward to our next conversation.
Once more, it took me a while to figure out why, but it finally clicked: She was comfortable with me.
She sees my blindness and the way it affects me, but she sees it as one facet of an individual with varied strengths and weaknesses. She sees me as interdependent with MrH, not reliant on him–and taking steps to learn to be less so. She sees my blogging as legitimate writing, and the potential for my writing to grow into a real business or profession.
She sees me not as a blind person, but as a person who happens to be blind.
Not Isolated Incidents
These aren’t the first times I’ve encountered either of these attitudes.
They stood out to me this time, perhaps because I happened to think about them or perhaps because they happened within a day of each other, but I’ve seen the same contrast repeated time and again, from groups and individuals.
Some people see me as a limited person. Some people see me as a person with some limitations.
I’ve been lucky in that my family and most of our friends have fallen firmly in the latter camp, so much so that the first attitude frequently takes me by surprise when I encounter it. I’ve met others who aren’t as lucky, and I’ve seen the frustration living with the first attitude causes and the way it drains them.
In general, I don’t think the former attitude comes from a place of malice, but from a lack of understanding brought about by a lack of exposure. If you’ve never encountered a blind or visually impaired person, you have no way of knowing what our abilities or limitations are, and it can be kind of scary.
That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to me to go out and be visible in the world, and one of the reasons I started this blog.
I want people to see me, a blind woman in a sighted world, to share in my successes and triumphs–as well as my fumbles and stumbles and fails. I want people to feel comfortable talking to me about my blindness and how it affects me, but also to realize that it’s only one facet of the complex human being that I am.
I want people to be comfortable with me, and by extension with other people who are blind and visually impaired. I want to be a part of the wider world, and for that world to be happy to have me there.
So…here I am. And ready or not, here I come!