I went to our local Support Group for the Blind meeting yesterday. I almost never go any more, partly because I have a pretty busy schedule and partly because I don’t feel I get a lot out of the meetings.
But this meeting sounded like it might have some promise.
We were going to have a guest, a psychiactric professional (sorry, can’t remember the exact designation) who would talk to us about adjusting to blindness.
This is something that’s been on my mind lately, and I was interested to hear what he had to say. I pictured a roundtable discussion in which we could talk about how we lost -or were losing – our eyesight, how we’d adjusted and what had helped us in the process, and maybe even exchange some advice about dealing with clueless members of the public who don’t really understand blindness or blind people and don’t know how to deal with us.
Sadly, that isn’t what went down.
Our speaker came prepared with A Message, complete with several carefully selected readings:
Even though you have lost your eyesight, you can still experience the world through your other senses, and you still have something to offer the world.
Well, thank you for that insight.
He went on to offer some metaphysical observations. Life is about learning to love. God – a specifically Christian God – is there for you. And death is a kiss that brings you to God and reunites you with your loved ones who have gone before.
Our group’s leader tried several times to redirect him onto something more relevant, but he was bound and determined to stay on message.
This might – might – be an appropriate message for someone who had recently lost their eyesight and had reached out for words of inspiration and comfort.
It was not an appropriate message for most, if any, of the people in that room: A woman who had lost her eyesight decades ago, worked as a teacher for the blind, and spent the holidays playing the piano at her church. A man, completely blind, who uses power tools to make wooden birdhouses to bring in a little extra income. A woman who had just moved into her own apartment. A man who had retired as a preacher due to his loss of eyesight but continued to preach at various local churches when asked to do so. A blogger and budding freelance writer. And so many more.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was offended. Deeply offended.
This man – a sighted man – came into a room full of vital, active, engaged blind people and offered us a pat on the shoulder and a tepid reassurance that the world still needed us, without bothering to find out anything about us, our interests, or our needs.
Like so many clueless people who are determined to Do Good for a marginalized group, he didn’t care about hearing our voices. He only wanted to dispense the headpats and homilies he had predetermined we must need.
What He Should Have Done
The best thing our speaker could have done in that situation is to listen. To let us exchange our thoughts and hear what we had to say.
When I went to the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, I was part of a group that met once a week to talk about adjusting to blindness, and in particular our own adjustments and experiences. Our leader, a sighted woman, came prepared with a topic each week, got the ball rolling, then sat back and let us talk, interjecting only to offer an interpretation or ask another question that facilitated the discussion.
It was a very empowering and enriching experience, and helpful to know that our experiences had been mirrored in others’. I felt we learned a lot from each other, and though our facilitator had worked with blind students for years, I believe she learned from us, too.
I didn’t feel as though yesterday’s speaker learned anything from us, and I don’t think we learned much from him, either. He didn’t seem to know much about us when he arrived, and I suspect he didn’t know any more about us when he left. I wish he’d been more open to that.
I feel as though I adjusted to my own vision loss relatively easily, for a variety of reasons. Rather than turn this into a marathon post, I’ll break that off into a separate entry and post it in the next few days.
Hope you’re all having an amazing week and looking forward to the weekend!