IT FINALLY HAPPENED

On a white tile lays the Revolution mobility cane in 5 pieces. The handle lays on the far left side with the pepper spray bottle tied to the frayed handle loop and the string that connects the five pieces laying above the five separate pieces. The wear and use of the cane is evident from the many dents and scratches.

It finally happened. Twelve years in the making; from high school prom, my high school graduation, and through college.

 

My cane finally met her end.

 

We had so many firsts together: when I got my period, crossing my first major intersection by myself, the first time a man asked me out, my first job, buying my first adult toy, my first college course…

 

She was there (and responsible for some) of my embarrassing moments: when a guy asked me out and I thought he was making a joke, so I laughed out loud, missing the Caution Wet Floor sign and causing me to trip over it – of course making a loud racket (cursing as I fell) and causing everyone to freak out and ask if the poor, blind girl was okay, tripping (accidentally!) my friends/family/professor, missing a stranger’s legs, having me think the chair was empty…

 

You were there when I got lost, confidently tapping against every landmark but the one I needed. You were there when I was angry, smoothly sliding side to side in front of me, catching every obstacle that was in my way. You were there when I was sad, felt hopeless, felt ashamed, confused, and tired.

 

You were there the first time a man slid his arm around my waist, fingers trailing across my skin, dipping at the curve of my ass, ending with his hand clenching at my side, forcefully directing me to where he ‘thought’ I wanted to go. You were there countless times after, solid, every time a man or woman directed me with their hands instead of their voice.

 

You were folded, tucked in my purse snug against my wallet when I got Sadie.

 

You were there when I second guessed my partnership with Sadie.

 

You were there when…

 

My brother and I were at the store; standing in front of the frozen dessert aisle, debating on what we wanted. I was holding my cane loosely in my right hand when it happened. Broken. Five pieces.

 

There we knelt, in front of the pies and ice cream. My brother gathering a few pieces, trying to put them back together. The string tying the sections together seemed to have snapped.

 

Not bothering to move – and being calm all the while, I slid the string attached to the handle through the second section, then the third, then the forth. The string wasn’t long enough to go through the fifth piece.

 

It is stupid, I thought, to tear up over a cane. I barely use it anymore.

 

Gathering my pieces, I slipped them into my purse. My feet moved automatically after that. Left, right. Confident. How odd, I thought, that my legs are confident and strong, but my right hand didn’t know what to do – closing into a fist, then grasping for something, then hanging, limply.

 

When my brother left me to get something in another aisle, I stood there feeling foolish. What if someone stands in front of me, waiting for me to move out of their way so they can get something from the shelf behind me? I won’t know they’re there. They won’t know I’m blind. Just someone wearing sunglasses in a store. No cane. No blind identifier.

 

Hours later, my cane rests, folded in my purse. It’s useless now and I should throw it away, but…

 

It is stupid to tear up over a broken cane. It’s not like I use it very often.

 

Keshia smiling broadly, her long dark hair framing her face in fashionable sunglasses. Wearing a red and white sleevless top and blue jeans, holding a Revolution mobility cane with a pepper spray holder tied to the handle loop of her cane. Standing in front of a brightly lit window with red curtains.

Freedom

The Seeing Eye harness, black background

Today is not just your birthday but our anniversary. It’s been three years. Three short years since we first met. Working with you has been freedom; I am not grounded when walking with you, I am soaring, I am untouchable, in flight – and the only thing that connects me to Earth is the smell and sound of the environment…and you: the pull of your harness, the turn and direction of your body; informing me to slow down, speed up, turn left, turn right, there is a door, a curb, a bench, the Publix bakery, a hallway, my favorite chair at the university library, home.

 

This is not to say walking with a cane is not freedom. Having complete control over your movements, knowing as much of your surroundings, making sure to stay in contact with landmarks that will inform you to turn soon, turn now, wrong area – turn around…this is freedom too.

Me sitting at a fountain wearing an orange shirt and blue jeans with Sadie sitting next to me looking towards the sun. Behind us is the blue water in the fountain and some strollers for people at the outlet mall to use. Beyond that, some bushes and ttrees just starting to get their leaves back and a tall brick building against ablue sky

However, with you I am in constant flight. The skills I use with my cane take me to the next level with you. I do not trip, my feet are in constant motion, never stumbling. My hand is steady, they do not tremble with second guessing (did I miss that landmark?). I am just as confident with you than with my cane; head held high, back straight, body direction forward.

 

There is also a quickness and a sense of security with you. If there is a crowd that I need to walk through, a flick of the wrist and a command, you will lead me through it – and not once will I bump into bodies, trip over feet and other objects. I am turned around and need to find my way back, the turn of my body, a flick of the wrist, a command, and you will take me there. The buildings are too far apart and there is a wide-open space separating them, there is no landmarks that I can find to tell me that my body direction is correct but with a flick of the wrist and a command, you will take me there.

Me with my hair down wearing a yellow T-shirt and blue jean shorts with white sneakers walking Sadie at Lake Eola. We're on a sidewalk in front of some green grass and willow trees. Sadie is looking at something interesting to the right of the camera

It hasn’t always been easy. Our bodies haven’t always walked as partners: I didn’t trust you at first, always second guessing your direction, instruction, and feedback of the environment; you, who can be playful and compliant out of harness, refused to listen to me, to follow my commands, you knew where you were going, so there was no need for me to tell you anything.

 

I cried during training. I thought it was a mistake to give up my cane and pick up a harness. I was so nervous that you would do something un-service animal like that would cause people around me to judge me, judge you, judge the Seeing Eye. I imagined running into doors, walls, tripping over things, I imagined you taking food off of plates and out of trash cans, I imagined you jumping on people, barking when in classrooms, chasing after squirrels and birds. I doubted myself, would I have the strength to correct you in public when you did something wrong?

 

Things, of course, did get better. While in training, you started to listen to me more. I became more comfortable with you – and with the harness. I made mistakes and so did you – luckily, I was in good company, people who were in training for the first time, telling me the same fears and doubts I had, and there were people there for the second, third, eighth time, telling me about the times they felt as if they weren’t going to be good handlers, telling me the different ways they made mistakes.

Me in sunglasses with my hair hanging down over my left shoulder wearing a white off-the-shoulder sweater that reads "Believe in Love" with black pants and sandals next to my luggage at Orlando International Airport. Sadie is laying down between my feet as she waits to see her new home for the first time

We graduated from training. And some of my fears did come to pass.

 

At the university, I learned quickly not to let you use the bathroom on thick grass because you would eat it. It was Florida and September and the second week of school – so hot and busy and loud – and since I had my hands full of things, I decided to put you on long leash and let you do your thing. Standing there, sweating and weighted down with books, a laptop, your bowls and bag of food and a few bottles of water – for me and you – I wondered what was taking so long. “Park time,” I repeated. The leash didn’t move. “Park time.” Nothing. Then, from behind me, a man asks his friend, “Dude, why is she telling her dog to eat grass?” I was embarrassed. I am able to laugh about it now but back then I felt as if I didn’t know what I was doing.

 

You don’t grab food from plates or trashcans, but you do love napkins and wadded bits of paper – receipts, notebook paper, essays. I learned this because in one of my psychology courses, there was a young woman who loved to look at you. She would coo at you and make kissing noises. To my pride, not once did you look her way, you did not return any of her kisses. But she had a half of a hamburger that she wanted to give to you. Without knowing it at the time, she placed the hamburger on a napkin and placed it in front you. I didn’t know she did it until I heard you chomping a way. Napkin in your mouth and burger ignored on the floor.

 

There were quite a few service animals on campus and you ignored every single one of them, until they licked your paws, rubbed against your side and sniffed you. You would say a quick hello back; you were working and didn’t have time for playing or conversing.

Sadie laying on her bed with a red ball in her mouth with an expression of "no cameras, please" in front of the fully-ornamented Christmas tree and wrapped presents

I was noticed more. Being a blind woman, I am used to the glances and comments from people, but with you, their glances were longer and their comments were louder. With the cane, people would usually get out of the way – no one wants to get their ankles hit – but with you, a small, fluffy, golden retriever, there was no hesitation in blocking the way so they can have that quick pat, a conversation – with you – about you. People love the way you look and watching you work; without asking, they take pictures and videos of you. You are on Instagram and SnapChat – despite me not having an account, you are a photo on Facebook posts – despite me not knowing them.

 

It took a while to move fluidly. There were quite a few times in the beginning where my body direction and my commands were in complete opposites. You would choose one and we would trip over each other’s legs. You would choose another and I would correct you. And there were times you wouldn’t move at all. Our walk is better too; we do not walk head to head – my body is behind your ribs. We do not race one another, you are the guide.

 

I am comfortable with you now. I am quick to repeat a command if you need a reminder. I am also quick with a correction if you need it. When you stop and refuse to go any further, I fix my body direction, if that doesn’t work, then there is something in the way.

 

You and I are more in tandem now. I move with your body and you move with mine. You follow my commands and I trust you will get me there, even if it feels as if you are going the wrong way. We are perfect together. I am extremely light sensitive, and you will always choose to walk in the shade rather than the sun. You are up for a cuddle just asMe in my white sunglasses with my hair cascading down over my goldenrod colored shirt and shite pants. I'm kneeling down for the puppy love as she goes to lick my nose, and behind us are some yachts and trees, and even some of the Orlando skyline farther away much as a quick nap or a few hours of play.

Claiming My Education and My Anger

On top of a red and white tablecloth sits a white plate with a shiny red apple. The apple has a jagged bite taken out of the right side. Image courtesy of www.inabeautifulmess.com

Years ago, I took a course on women writers. I was particularly excited about that. By then, most of my courses focused more on white Christian men; poems, novels, and essays full of justification on why they supported racist ideology, or why they supported keeping a woman subservient (legally or socially) to their fathers and husbands, or how intelligent or stronger they – or their main (white male) character – was compared to the ignorant and weak male character (who was from another country or lower class). The course featured all women writers, ranging from poor to rich, white to POC, Christian to Muslim; our readings ranged from poems, novels, to essays; and public outreach was a large part of the class – for Women’s History Month, we had to create fliers (of our choosing, that had something to do with women), we split into groups and decided what (or whom) to use as a theme in our exhibit at the university library, and we had to do a presentation at the main library downtown. Other than a few accessibility issues, the course was great.

I love courses that make me think – philosophically, spiritually, about myself, about my loved ones, about society. Luckily, being an English and Gender Studies major, I had a lot of courses like that. In this course, we were asked two questions that made me stop and think (and gave me the feels – of the not so good kind):

  • Have you claimed your education?
  • Why are you angry?

 

These two questions hit me so hard. You know those questions – those questions that are so simple, so innocent sounding – those questions where the answers come quick but the emotions rarely match and you have to stop and analyze yourself, or your answers end up being longer than you thought – or doesn’t end up being the answer you thought you would have given if you thought of it first, or the answer, after given, leaves you drained, emotionally? Yeah.

As for the first question, it comes from “Claiming an Education,” by Adrienne Rich. She delivered this speech at the convocation of Douglass College in 1977. She says,

The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one. One of the dictionary definitions of the verb “to claim” is: to take as the rightful owner; to assert in the face of possible contradiction. “To receive” is to come into possession of: to act as receptacle or container for; to accept as authoritative or true.

Basically, we must be active in claiming our education, not passive. We must be assertive and take responsibility for ourselves and our needs; advocate, never settle for less and know, in the end, you know what you need better than anyone else.

She then goes on to talk about the professors and how they should take their students – women – more seriously. Instead of focusing on their student’s intellectual abilities, they tend to eroticize their students – treating their students as sexual objects.

The education of women has been a matter of debate for centuries, and old, negative attitudes about women’s role, women’s ability to think and take leadership, are still rife both in and outside the university. Many male professors (and I don’t mean only at Douglass) still feel that teaching in a women’s college is a second-rate career. Many tend to eroticize their women students–to treat them as sexual objects–instead of demanding the best of their minds. (At Yale a legal suit [Alexander v. Yale] has been brought against the university by a group of women students demanding a stated policy against sexual advances toward female students by male professors.) Many teachers, both men and women, trained in the male-centered tradition, are still handing the ideas and texts of that tradition on to students without teaching them to criticize its antiwoman attitudes, it’s omission of women as part of the species.

I was so self-assured back then; I told myself that I do claim my education, then list why that statement was true.

As for the second question, I can’t remember why our professor asked us this; all I have are fragmented rambles taken after the question was asked:

I am angry because my professors see nothing wrong in asking students to write down their opinions, while telling me that do to it not being accessible, she will read it to me, and I can tell her how I feel. Out loud. In the middle of class. Meanwhile, the students write down their private thoughts, reassured in their privacy.

I am angry because I am not being represented in books and poems; where is my body? Do I – and others like me – exist outside of medical textbooks?

Out of our five-person group, he was chosen to speak for us. Group discussion: when did we first realize gender differences? He ignored mine; told the story of the boy and the other boy and the girl and the other girl – but did not tell my story. Why said the second girl. He did not verbally answer. I do not understand why. I am angry because too many times my voice, my story, has been put aside, not good enough to be repeated, told, fkjdls;ajfdl

The professor wanted us to write down – anonymously – why we are angry. She would collect them all and turn them into a poem. When I got the poem a few weeks later, I cried. It was raw and ugly and real and heart, stabbing heart-breaking real pain beautiful. I loved it. I still read it from time to time.

With shaky fingers that are no longer used to writing with a pen, I wrote,

Practicing self-silencing.

I look back at those questions now. I know better now. I have not claimed my education; not entirely, anyway. This is an ableist society and being disabled, claiming education is the difference between living or existing. You either will sink or swim. Too often parents of disabled children are told by friends, doctors, and others – regardless of disability – that the child will be unable to live a reasonable quality of life (because having an impairment has such a traumatic physical or psychological impact on a person). With society set against believing you can achieve success from the start, it is up to the disabled child’s loved ones – then as the disabled child gets older, up to them, to push for accessibility and inclusion.

When I look back at the countless times in college, where I sat silent, not able to fully participate because the materials weren’t made accessible in time – do to the Disability Resource Center running behind, or the professors failing to give the materials to them in time; or when I fell in love with math, and wanted to minor in it, and an advisor kindly told me that it would be too hard, considering my…impairment; or when I failed Gender Studies because the professor refused to create an actual lesson plan, and enjoyed randomly showing – and testing us on – movies that were subtitled or silent…

How many of those times did I stand up for myself? More than half. Did I claim my education? I sent emails to professors a few months before the semester started, informing them of my disability and what I needed done for the class to be made accessible. I invited them to ask me questions if they were unsure of anything; I assured them that I would do everything on my end to make this easy. Most took me up on the offer, some informed me that they knew all of this because they “had a blind student before,” – which then I had to explain that, no, that student can read print, I can’t – but there was a couple who, no matter what I did, I was always an inconvenience. There were professors that had to be reminded constantly to be descriptive when talking about art, or that they had to finish the list of extra readings as soon as possible so that they can be made accessible in time, or that had to be told, no, they can not randomly pick an essay for us to read or movie for us to watch, because it won’t be made accessible in time and I won’t be able to participate in class discussions.

How many times was I silent because I was tired of the constant fight to make sure I had the things I needed to pass the course, or scared because I thought the professor would give me a lower grade out of spite, annoyed by my constant nagging, or ashamed of having a disability. How many times did I feel as if I had to justify to my professors why I was there, in their classroom instead of at home. How many times did I sit in the back, or front, or middle of the classroom, silent because I couldn’t participate. How many times did I feel stupid and weak? How many times did I let things slide because the professor was too busy, or the professor was trying their best, or the professor will get to it later? How many times did I feel as if I didn’t belong there; that I should just give up?

Too many times. So, no, I have not claimed my education. Not entirely.

Am I still angry? Yes. Yes, I fucking am.

However, this time, this time I will let my anger guide me in claiming my education. Claiming my space in classrooms, claiming my voice in class discussions, claiming my right to be here. I will no longer hold my anger back, letting it lay on my tongue, refusing to roar. No longer will I ask politely, then beg; I will ask, then I will demand. I will no longer give a pass to those who barely try; I will no longer be thankful for at least getting ‘something’; I will get everything I deserve, everything that is given to the other students.

I belong here. I have a right to be here. And if you don’t want me here, in your ivory tower, too fucking bad. I will get what I deserve. Make way for my cane. Make space on these desks for my brailled notes and laptop with a screen reader. Become comfortable with me here, in front of you, because you have no other choice.

 

 

Rape Culture and Womanhood – Not a Trick or Treat

white expressionless drama mask, black background

Today I waited for my best friend’s husband to pick me up from the Megabus bus stop. Today I stood on a curb while strangers passed me by on the way to the bus, informing their friends, someone on the phone, or merely speaking out loud to no one particular on my beauty, praising me for being such an inspiration and how special I was. Today I observed a woman around my age ignored by the strangers lining up for the bus.

Today my best friends husband was thirty minutes late picking me up from the Megabus bus stop. Today I felt alone. Today I realized that the pepper spray case holder tied to the frayed string of my cane was empty; I did not replace my pepper spray. Today I told myself it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today a woman asked me when my ride was coming. Today I was alone. Today a woman told me that this wasn’t a safe place to be alone. Today I remembered that disabled people are twice more likely to be sexually assaulted than those without disabilities. Today a woman offered to pay for an Uber ride because she didn’t feel comfortable with leaving me here alone. Today I told myself it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today a woman told me that this was not a safe place to be alone. Today I did not have my pepper spray. Today two women told me that I should not be alone, so they would wait with me. Today I did not have my pepper spray. Today I told myself that it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today over ten women told me that this was not a safe place to be alone. Today I wondered if there was a place safe enough to be alone.

Seven hours later, in my best friend’s bathroom, I would realize that I was quick to put the blame on myself rather than on the supposed attacker; merely because I didn’t have pepper spray. I would quickly assure any sexual assault victim of their innocence and never allow anyone to blame the victim for being attacked – but that is the danger of rape culture: there is more support for the perpetrator than for the victim and that we are responsible for preventing our own rapes. How easy it was for me to realize my lack of protection and blame myself for an attack that could have happened.

An hour later, my best friend and I sit at the kitchen table, talking to one another as if we hadn’t spoken in years rather than hours. Her voice is steady with a lilt of laughter and despite being fluent in English, her accent proudly reminds everyone that she is not from here. She never grabs me; her touch is always confident and quick. She has the soul and spirit of my mother; she is compassionate, an advocate, activist, brave and does not realize her worth.

While eating pita bread topped with a mixture of jibneh and peppers, we talk about sex and what a healthy sex life means. We talk of asexuality, masturbation, dildos, my preferred choice of clit stimulator’s and her love of hugs.

While gathering the ingredience and kitchen utensils, we talked of marriage and the reasons people marry. While cutting the chicken, chopping vegetables, choosing spices and making the sauce, we talked about mothers; the similar way our mothers were raised – despite one being from Switzerland and barely Christian and the other from Egypt and a devout Muslim – and the ways our mothers tried to instill certain ideals of womanhood to their unwilling daughters.

While setting the table, we talked of cultural differences and how in the end, regardless of country, women are still brought up to believe that they are lesser, not as worthy or smart. We talked about brothers and fathers; the innocent and oblivious ways they enforce and promote patriarchy and her determination to teach her son differently.

My friend and I refusing to submit to societies strict rules on a woman’s purpose in life (to serve, support and obey) has made us appreciate our own space and privacy even more. I think too, having brothers and noticing the difference in the ways our mothers treat them compared to us has made a huge impact on our lives: I do not praise my brothers for doing something outside of their gender roles, nor do I expect anything less; she teaches her son the importance of being responsible and reliable for yourself and your mess and how to take care of both.

Despite my rejection, I still find myself playing the part. I do not want children, yet at times I feel as if I will not be considered successful until I have a family. This is foolish, I know – having kids can be fulfilling to many, but it does not make you successful if you have one nor does it make you unsuccessful if you do not have one. I find myself feeling guilty for not cooking anything. This too is foolish – my brothers are perfectly capable of making themselves something to eat; I do not need to cook for grown men.

This society excuses sexual violence and blames the victim. It is a constant fight against language, music, art, movies and literature that perpetuates rape culture. It is also, as I learned today, a constant fight with yourself.

It is also a constant fight against societies image of a perfect woman: sexual and pure, innocent and experienced, smart but not too smart, thin but voluptuous, a mother but always ready for fun, having a career and keeping up with the house and children. In the end, we will burnout; it is impossible to be everything and nothing, to always be the woman behind the man – never taking the lead role, just the supportive one.

Rape culture is just as dangerous and manipulative as womanhood – in the end you will be harmed, and you will have convinced yourself that it was your fault.

Every day I examine my thoughts of being unworthy and feelings of guilt and trace them back to patriarchal ideology and then ignore them. It takes time and true reflection. I shouldn’t blame myself instead of an attacker; I shouldn’t feel less worthy for not having children and guilty for not taking care of grown men.

October — Meet the Blind Month (Or — I WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN YOUR FREAK SHOW!)

braille alphabet on rectangular wood block

Fire Japanese Maple tree in the Fall

 

It’s October – pumpkins are growing and pumpkin flavor is being put on everything, kids (and adults) are debating what to wear for Halloween, the leaves are changing colors…

And I get a few emails requesting an interview or to be a guest speaker to their event for “Meet the Blind Month.”

According to the National Federation of the Blind, Meet the Blind Month’s purpose is to spread awareness of the NFB and there goals; they do this by promoting events that support the NFB.

Sound good? On the surface, yes; what organization doesn’t do something similar? However, without fail, every October I am frustrated – by the blind – and harassed – by the public. Without fail, every October, I politely send out my sorry-will-not-be-able-to-do-anything-this-month rejection email towards those who want me for their Meet the Blind Month related interviews or events.

Why? Isn’t it important to show the public that the blind and visually-impaired are just as vital to the community? Shouldn’t the blind and visually-impaired go out and show the public that they are capable of doing anything and everything they put their minds to? Isn’t it important to knock those barriers down; to show the public that the blind and visually-impaired are-just-like-them?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And still I won’t participate in Meet the Blind Month related events. Let me explain why.

I am not a freak show. I am not here to do a song and dance for the public. I will not inform every-single-able-bodied-person on my medical history, on my “regrets,” on my “hopes for a cure,” on how I do everyday things – just-like-they-do (which seriously, just use common sense; it’s not rocket science on how I shave, eat and shop).

(The quotes are sarcasm; the regrets I have – which are very few, fortunately – have nothing to do with my vision. Nor do I hope for a cure. I am happy with the way I am.)

What do you mean “freak show?” The NFB doesn’t agree with nor do they promote freak shows.

True. And yet…

Braille Alphabet Chart

I have seen the blind (not just those affiliated with the NFB) walk around populated areas (farmers market, town center, churches) handing out cards that have the braille alphabet, handing out brochures and pamphlets on “HOW TO TREAT THOSE WHO ARE BLIND” or “BLIND PARENTS ARE JUST AS CAPEABLE AS SIGHTED PARENTS,” “FAQs ON BLINDNESS,” etc. I have seen people who are blind invite the able-bodied to ask questions about their blindness and how they do various tasks without being able to see.

If you want to do all that – then be my guest.

I however refuse to stroll up and down the sidewalk, stand in front of a store, or sit in a restaurant loudly proclaiming my blindness and opening my arms to the public, welcoming their invasive questions and comments, prayers and pity.

As a disabled person, the public already considers me public property – to move, to make an example of, to study. And for eleven months out of the year, I can choose to converse with those asking questions about my vision, or how I can exist without it. Then October comes, those who stood beside me – sighted and blind – understanding my choice and level of participation in these conversations are gone. I am no longer the advocate or self-assured woman; I am the one holding us back (how can the public understand us if we don’t answer their questions, if we don’t show them what we can do?), I am the rude one (how can you expect the public to understand the blind if you don’t answer their questions, if you don’t show them what you can do?).

Choice. Having the choice to say no to one person and yes to the next one. Having a choice to participate in a question and answer form on how I live my life. Having the choice to give detailed information on my medical history when asked. Choice.

It is my choice to say yes and to say no; and to say no without feeling guilty of betraying “the cause,” or being rude for not being an open book for the public’s perusal.

Living a Life of Tragedy or The Truth of Living with Blindness

At Lake Eola Park. Keshia sits in the large stone palm of the Muse of Discovery. She is laying back, propped up on her elbows and looking left toward the camera with a playful look on her face. She is wearing sunglasses, blue jeans and a pale yellow tank top. Her long, curly, dark brown hair is draped across the front of her. In the background is the left side of The Muse of Discovery's face and her other hand and arm, giving her the appearance of coming out of the ground.

Keshia standing beside the staircase in a purple, three-quartered sleeve blouse, black dress pants and heels.

When people find out I am blind, they usually react in the following ways:
• A moment of silence – this person silently regrets all of the life experiences I have missed out on. They immediately begin talking (to me or—usually—to the person we are with) about how sad it is that I will not be able to achieve a reasonable quality of life.
• An awkward pause – this person doesn’t know what to say or do, they feel as if they have committed a social faux pas. Do they make a joke (“I thought you were wearing sunglasses in the house because you were high!”), do they apologize for not knowing, do they ignore it and continue with the conversation? In the end, the conversation never picks back up; knowing that I am blind makes it difficult for them to see me the way they did before: normal. And how do you interact with someone that is not normal?
• Start to praise – this person considers it their duty to inform me that I am doing so well (for being blind). They start listing my accomplishments and comparing me to people they know who haven’t achieved half of the things I have (and are not disabled).
• And? – This person doesn’t care. This person may or may not ask one or two questions, then continue with what we were doing at the time. This person doesn’t feel pity or concern or awe.

 

The first three people have something in common: they all believe that it is a tragedy to be disabled. To them, my life has been negatively affected because I am blind.

 

We are taught (both able-bodied and disabled) over and over again that disability, or being disabled is a tragedy. The mind and body damaged, requiring rehabilitation, treatment or (preferably) a cure. Society says that to be disabled is to be completely dependent on the state.

 

But why? Why is society so ableist? How did we get to this way of thinking?

 

To me, there seems to be two reasons. A religious reason (which I talked about in a previous post), which views disability as a sin, a punishment from God. And a medical perspective, which views disability as an affliction, something that needs to be fixed/cured, or prevented at all costs (antenatal termination).

 

To many people, being disabled means that your childhood was lonely, your education was stunted, and you will never have close and healthy relationships with others.

 

Disabled Childhood

Eight-year old Keshia at Buchberg, Schaffhausen dressed in light blue jeans and a dark blue sweater with three brown cows behind her.I grew up participating in gymnastics and ballet. I read large print. I enjoyed roller skating. I wore contacts. I had to make my bed and clean my room. I had to sit in the front row of the classrooms. I hated (and still do) drinking milk. I had to take eye drops twice a day for my glaucoma. I got into fights with my younger brothers. I used a magnifying glass to read. I played with baby dolls and hated Barbie’s. I had countless surgeries on my eyes. I loved hiking.

 

Disabled Learning

My favorite class was math. Once I learned braille, math became a lot more fun and faster for me to complete. I thought science was too hard. I had an Individualized Education Plan. I graduated from high school. I had extra time to finish tests. I graduated from university with a bachelors in English and Gender Studies. I take class notes in braille. I am currently pursuing a masters in Gender Studies.

Disabled Personal Relationships

Despite my mom’s constant urging, I am not married and I do not have (nor want) kids. I have a circle of best friends. I am close with my family.

 

As you can see, my life has not been negatively affected because of my disability. Nor has it been enriched because of my disability. Have I experienced hardships? Yes. Not because I am blind but because of societies attitudes and perceptions of the disabled and our abilities. Despite having a disability, I experience, achieved and am pursuing many of the same things countless others my age have.

So You Have A New Roommate

This photo features 6 hand drawn mice painted with watercolors. From left to right: This first mouse is a pink color and is wearing a festive shirt, it has pink heart sunglasses propped up on it's head and has a red cup in each hand. The next mouse is a light orange color and is wearing a long white dress and blue beaded necklace with a pink heart charm dangling from it. It also has a gold halo above its head. The next mouse is a pale peach color and is wearing and orange hoodie and holding a orange box that says my food. The next mouse is brown and wearing a long pink bathrobe with blue pants peeking out underneath, pink slippers, and black framed glasses. The next mouse is a light gray color and is wearing a long sleeved, floor length, orange dress with a yellow apron on top of it. The last mouse is a dark orange color wearing a multi colored and multi patterned quirky outfit. It also has green dangling earrings, a green bow on it's head, yellow high heels and red cat eye glasses. It is holding it's right hand out and in it is a small terracotta pot with a single red flower sprouting from it. Photo courtesy of https://www.manrepeller.com/2017/01/types-of-roommates.html

Having a roommate can be challenging for anyone – sharing a space, having to make sure you’re not too loud, not able to do the things you could if you were alone, worrying that they would be dirty, a thief, a party animal.

However, if you have a disability, there are a whole other challenges to think about. Of course you may be upset at the fact you have to share space (clearing space in the fridge, cabinets, counters and pantry), having to remember you can’t blast your music as loud as you want when cleaning the house or taking a shower, can’t walk around topless – or naked – whenever you want, if you will have cockroaches because your roommate doesn’t know what a broom is for or what it means to wash dishes, whether or not some of your things will go missing, or if you will have the cops called because your roommate thinks it perfectly normal to throw a party ‘just because’ on a Tuesday night.

But you also have to worry about other things; like whether or not your roommate considers themselves to be your twenty-four seven at home nurse, or they consider you to be a diseased annoyance, or their very own personal freak show.

Here’s how to spot what kind of roommate you have – and how to put a stop to it.

Caretaker

This is a roommate who feels the need to take care of you; whether because they get enjoyment out of it or because they feel like they have no choice. You are disabled, they only want to make things easier on you – no need to wash your clothes, mop, clean your dishes; they’ll do it for you (and they’ll do it the right way).

Despite the fact that you’ve been taking your medicine on your own for years, they’ll be behind you every morning and every night making sure you’ve taken your meds. Sometimes, they’ll even want to watch. Although they’ve never had to take meds, they’ll give you tips on how to put your contacts in or take them out, the right way to put eye drops in, the way you should organize your pills and what you should wash them down with.

They’ve only known you for a short while, but they consider themselves to be an expert on your disability; they’ll tell their friends what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you can and cannot do.

When company is over, they’ll go on and on how rewarding – but difficult – it is being a roommate to someone who is disabled. They’ll go into detail on how much they help you. They’ll sigh over how difficult you are about not excepting help when offered.

They’ll praise you over the simplest tasks – that you have been doing on your own for years – and gently reprimand you when they think you are pushing the limits of your body. When you don’t have enough energy to do much, they’ll be right there pointing out how right they were about your body’s limits and abilities.

How to Stop It

One of the things I do when a new girl moves in is make it known to them right away that I do not want them to clean up after me. “If you notice that I’ve missed a spot when cleaning, let me know right away, do not clean it.”

You have to make it clear that you expect a normal roommate relationship between you two. Your roommate wouldn’t expect to take care of anything around the house for an able-bodied roommate, and they should expect the same thing with you – despite having a disability.

Unapologetic Ableist

This roommate is someone who feels very uneasy about your disability, or they think it an annoyance to have a disabled roommate. They’ll stare at you when you walk into a room. They’ll back up a few steps when you come closer. When you try to get to know your roommate, they’ll answer all of your questions, but won’t reciprocate.

They speak more to your aid (if you have one), to your friends, or to your other roommate than they do to you.

They’ll ask if labeling the stove, oven, microwave and washer and drier is really necessary when you have friends that can help — do it for – you. When you tell them that you are willing to work with them to make things easier for them, they’ll sigh and walk away muttering “forget about it.”

Knowing what kind of disability you have, they refuse to socially adapt to it – for example: if you are blind, they will nod or shake their head instead of giving a verbal response.

They think of you only as a disability, not as a person.

They will not think it fair that you are not being charged by the apartment complex for having a service animal.

When in a group of people, they’ll make plans with everyone and not include you; if brought to their attention, they’ll give an excuse about your disability and how it would be too hard.

If you are out in public with them, they’ll ask you if you really need to bring your cane, where your sunglasses or keep your dog in harness. They will want you to pass as an able-body as much as possible.

They’ll compare your aches and pains to their experiences (“I know exactly how you feel, I felt the same way when I have headaches/sprained my ankle/had an earache/I get moody too, especially when I’m on my period/I gain weight like crazy too, especially during Christmas.”).

They are extremely uncomfortable at the fact you have an active sexual life.

They make assumptions on your mental capabilities based on your disability.

How to Stop It

Living with someone you don’t get along with is hard; living with someone who doesn’t like you because of something you can’t change is terrible.

At first you will give excuses for your roommates attitude; you will say things like, “their not a people person,” or “their probably going through a hard time.” Then you will start to notice how they only act that way towards you.

Maybe you will start to notice that they only tense up when your disability is mentioned (when you and your other roommate are talking about her migraines and your glaucoma headaches) or too much in-their-face (when you are reading the braille labels on your jars of sauces).

Do not ignore it; this will only stress you out and make your living situation unbearable – it is not your fault and you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable in your own home. Talk with them. Be as blunt as possible; do not sugar coat anything, you have a disability, so what – it is nothing to be ashamed or disgusted over.

If they can’t handle it and more problems arise, then I suggest you say “fuck it,” and be as disabled as fuck.

No seriously, if you live in a university apartment complex, then speak with someone in the office; they have someone there that could either move you or the ableist into another unit. If you live in a regular complex and were there first, then don’t worry about it; they’ll have to move. If you came after and nothing is working, then you will have to decide if you can stay there until your lease is up or if you can find another place to stay. Sometimes situations aren’t fixed; people won’t want to change and be open minded.

Just remember: it is not your fault; there is nothing wrong with being disabled.

Fascinated Watcher

This is a roommate who watches you as you poor tea, vacuum, wash dishes – someone who avidly watches you do anything at all. Everything you do is amazing; everything you do is impossible to imagine.

When your disability is brought up in conversation, they are amazed you don’t shy away or start to cry. During the conversation, they’ll ask you over and over again if you’re okay, if it bothers you that their asking about it, if you’re uncomfortable.

They’ll want to know your life story; how did you become disabled, were you born that way, do you know why, is it treatable. They’ll want to know how you feel; are you depressed, is your life hard, are you terrified. They’ll want to know your dreams and regrets; do you wish you weren’t disabled, you’ve missed out on so much.

They’ll praise you for getting out of bed and putting on a brave face. When getting to know you, they’ll focus on your disability and your bravery; they won’t ask about your job or college, they’ll just assume that you don’t work and don’t have an education. They’ll be surprised and amazed that you do, in fact, have a job and a college degree.

When they find out you work with disabled people, they’ll be unsurprised, saying that they are sure you teach them so much. If you don’t work with the disabled community, they’ll be surprised and wonder why.

If you are blind, they will expect you to be able to sing and play the piano. Some may even expect you to know sign language.

They’ll automatically think that if there was a cure, you would take it. They will not know how to take it when you tell them that, no, I do not want my vision back, I am happy with who I am – although I would like to get rid of my overbite.

They will always introduce you as there “insert disability” roommate. They will frequently say things like, “I can’t even do that and I’m not (insert disability)!” They will think the highest compliment is “you don’t seem disabled at all.”

They assume that all of your friends and your significant other is disabled.

How to Stop It

You’re going to be living with this person for a while. Be very honest with them. Tell them how uncomfortable or annoying it is. Show them how inappropriate there comments are – if they wouldn’t say those things to an LGBT+/person of color, then don’t say it to me; there’s nothing amazing about getting out of bed and doing everyday things while living.

 

Whether you have a caretaker, an unapologetic ableist, fascinated watcher or a mixture of all three, remember that you know your body and your limits, there is nothing wrong with being disabled and you deserve to feel comfortable in your own home. Be honest with yourself and your roommates. You are not a teachable moment; your health and life story is not for anyone to know. You have boundaries and everyone should respect that.