While I believe the thoughts expressed in this post apply to many blind people and people with other disabilities, I’m only speaking for me. I recognize others have different feelings about what I’m about to say, and I’m totally fine with that.
In this post, the word “blind” means total blindness.
- I am the only blind person in my family.
- When I was in school, I was the only blind student.
- I was the only blind undergrad at a university with roughly 10,000 students.
- I was the only blind person at my law school.
- I was the only blind person working for the American Bar Association.
- With the city of Portland, I am the only blind person in a workforce of more than 9,000.
What I just shared is an experience that is common to people with disabilities but very rare to people of other minority groups.
- Every girl grows up with women in her family.
- Every black young adult has gone to school with other black students.
- Every Latino has most likely worked with another Latino.
For me, living much of my life as the only blind person has come with challenges.
- I get tired of feeling like I have to represent blind people and blindness all the time.
- I’m regularly hurt by the inability of many to see much of me beyond my blindness.
- I’m often frustrated by the reality that to many, whether it’s a conscious decision or not, I am not their equal.
- I’m bothered by hthe regularity with which people who aren’t blind attribute their fear of something they don’t understand to the life I’m proud to live.
- I hate it that my mistakes are so often seen as resulting from my blindness. It’s like I screw up and some temporarily forget they do too.
- I get my feelings hurt by the number of people who only want to talk to me about Ufi.
- In weaker moments, I get angry about how often I’m supposed to have sympathy for people who don’t seem to consider me.
- Sometimes, I wish I didn’t feel so misunderstood and as out of place as I often do.
- Sometimes, I want to scream when people tell me I have to remember most sighted people have never met a blind person.
- My heart hurts when I wonder for too long when love will be mine.
- I bite my tongue when some who love to talk about the ways the dominant culture oppresses them are oppressing me.
The above isn’t meant to be a complaint. I’m hoping some will rread it and think. I’m hopeful some will read it and feel less alone.
Given everything I have said, it would be easy for me to be angry, frustrated and resentful. I know that’s true, because for years I was angry, frustrated, and resentful. At least that’s what I very rarely acknowledged. The truth is my anger, frustration, and resentment were masks to hide my sadness and loneliness.
Finally able to sometimes acknowledge the pain and isolation, I’m a much happier, more understanding person. The lessons the sadness and lonliness still teach are worth the pain. Sure, there are times when blending in seems intoxicating. If I blended in more often, I wouldn’t have as much to say. If I didn’t have as much to say–I wouldn’t be me.
Yes, there are blind people who do a better job reaching out than me. It’s true I would be better off if I were more understanding of people’s reactions to me. But it’s also true that everyone can be more open. If you are uncomfortable around me, it’s not my job to make you feel better. It’s our job to make each other feel better. After all, your discomfort around me isn’t exactly hidden from me.