The biggest obstacle a disabled person faces is society's ignorance of and
attitude towards the disabled. Having to hear someone say "you can't do
that, you're blind" often discourages people who are blind from trying
whatever they need or want to do! But we are like everyone else. We are your
families, friends, neighbors and even your bosses. Saying we "can't"
is denying us our freedom of choice.
We hear "You are so brave!" or folks say I'm "challenged."
I was not given a choice in this matter! So I don't consider myself brave nor
did I accept any challenge. Not given a choice, why would you call me brave?
I didn't volunteer to be blindI was drafted! The blind also get
this backhanded compliment "I admire you. I couldn't handle being blind,
I'd rather be dead!" As though our lives no longer had meaning just because
we can no longer see!
Life became more difficult after a stroke left me partially paralyzed
at 45. At 55, after ditch diving while learning to use my new power chair, the
doctor told me my optic nerve was broken. I woke up one morning and realized
I could no longer see and life as I'd known it as a graphic art designer
was over! But my life itself wasn't! I was legally blind. "Legally blind?"
What's that? I couldn't be blind because light hurts my eyes! But the doctors
explain that because of my 7% field of vision I was considered legally blind!
(Misconception about blindness is that all you see is "black". That's not true.
There are many types of blindness and not one "blind" person that I've asked
said they see black! I myself see nothing on my "blind" [left side]. There's
nothing there at all!) But don't get me wrong, I've discovered my mobility impairment
followed by legal blindness was really just another fork in the road. I still
have had my share of failures, as well as many successes! The most important
lesson I learned was how to laugh at myself! Looking back on my 67 years it
turned out to be really very funny. I had a good able bodied life, but still
have an equally good disabled one.
When I first learned I was legally blind, a sighted neighbor said "don't
worry. Glasses will fix that! They can fix anything now with glasses!"
Another said "prayer is the answer. Have faith and you will be cured."
And why do sighted people also assume we are deaf? I have had college professors
and waitresses yell in my ear when they were told I was blind! So I'd asked
them if they were deaf since they had to yell. Because I could hear them just
fine, I just couldn't see them! I read about a sighted person who, when asked
directions by a blind man, took out a map showed it to the guide dog telling
the dog "see it's right here on the map." Then there are those who
tell us "it's right over there!" I can only assume the sighted person
was pointing in some direction!
Well, I decided to get on with my life and learned to get around despite my
disabilities. Then I'd hear things like "you can't be blind, you do so
well!" Sighted people judged me as either a liar or a wonder to behold
with comments like "I could never do what you do" or "How do
you manage to know where you are?" Simple acts like pouring a cup of coffee
become an amazing accomplishment. Then there is my computer. People ask "how
do you know where the keys are? I couldn't do that." One belief that baffles
me is that when you lose your vision all your other senses increase making up
for the loss sight, right? Wrong! The day after my vision was lost someone told
me "now you can read Braille!" As though automatically when vision
goes you gain that skill! These senses and skills don't just magically appear
when you lose your sight. New skills need to be learned. But they can
be learned. And if I can learn to use my other senses and abilities, you can,
There are "group" associations that guided my trip through these disabilities.
And there's adaptive equipment that proved invaluable for differently abled
persons to succeed in dealing with their disabilities. I use a Hemmi wheel-chair!
What's that? It's used by folks who have Hemmiplegic paralyzed limbs; on one
side. Now figure out how to manage with one arm in daily life while sitting
in a "low-hemmi" manual wheelchair, designed for inside use, steered and moved
with one hand and one foot. It takes practice to move safely in the house, without
destroying the place or furnishings, it's also hard on my knees! Next chair
to conquer is a large powerchair, for outside use. The computer on this must
be set correctly for different speeds and you must practice at different settings
before attempting difficult maneuvers, like learning to go through doors and
judging the widths of the large back wheels, etc. And I use a program called
JAWS which stands for Job Access With Speech. It's a screen
reader program that reads information on my computer to me.
The organization that taught me how to accept and live with a disability is
the Canadian Paraplegic Association at www.canparaplegic.org.
The one that taught me how to advocate and accept blindness is the National
Federation of the Blind Advocates for Equality at www.nfbae.ca.
And there are groups on the Internet where blind folks can get help learning
to use programs like Microsoft Office with JAWS. You can join by sending an
email to email@example.com.
Investigate the disability organizations for one whose philosophy most suits
your personality and don't stay if you find it's wrong for you. Some encourage
dependence, others independence. So investigate by going to the organization
and listen, as well as talk to the members of all available organizations in