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

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.

What Christians Have Taught Me About My Disability

“You’re amazing. I’ve been watching you for the past ten minutes; I don’t know how you do it. God has truly blessed you.”

My lips barely curving into a smile, I thank her. Still facing forward, I gesture for my Seeing Eye dog to start walking. She takes a few steps, then stops.

“Sadie, forward.” I command. She doesn’t move.

“We were wondering if we could pray for you.” A man to my left.

“To heal you.” The woman from before explains from behind me.

“It won’t take long.” Another woman in front of me.

“Almighty and merciful Father,” a man to my right begins. The woman from before comes closer to me. She lays her hand on my shoulder, lightly pushing me deeper into the circle. “Please fill her with your healing power. Precious God, cast out all that should not be inside of her. We ask you to mend all that is broken—“

“I’m sorry,” I interrupt. “I’m not looking to be healed. Thank you for the thought though.” I gesture for Sadie to go forward. She doesn’t move.

“You don’t want to be healed – for your eyes to be fixed? Your life would be so much better.” The woman in front of me.

“I’m actually happy with my life right now – being blind and all. I really have to go, so if you’ll excuse me. Sadie, forward.” Sadie guides me to the left onto the grass, we walk a few steps then she guides me back on to the sidewalk. Out of the circle now, I whisper to Sadie to “hup-up,” she picks up her pace; we are rounding the corner when the woman who first spoke to me catches up to us.

She apologizes for offending me. She said that they just wanted to help. They wanted to ask their Lord to heal me so that my body could function the way it was created to be. “Don’t you want to be able to see? To be whole and complete?”

“No. I don’t. I’m fine with the way I am.”

Taking my right hand in both of hers, she went on to say, “You have a point: God made you this way for a reason; he has a plan for you. God bless you.” Before I could say no, you misunderstood me, that wasn’t my point, she patted me on the shoulder, turned and ran back to her friends.

 

 

 

For as long as I can remember, Christians have told me about my disability. That having a disability was a sickness and needed to be healed. Or that my disability was a blessing, meant to touch the lives of those around me.

I was seven when my brother’s best friend’s mother cornered me in the kitchen. Her fingers shackling my wrists, her voice loud and insistent, speaking in tongues. She told me, that by the power of God, I would be healed, no more suffering. I was seven – suffering was a word I hadn’t experienced yet. Later on, I found out she was talking about my eyes.

I was twelve when I lost the vision of my right eye and the vision in my left eye quickly deteriorating. Angry with my parents, my eye doctors – the world, I tried my hardest to fight being labeled blind. That year, the assistant to my PE coach told me that there was a reason I was going through this. God had plans for me; by taking my sight, I would be a test for Christians: will they be respectful and charitable to the unfortunate? I can’t remember what activity we had that day for PE, but I know I was upset that I couldn’t participate. I needed to hear, “I’ll talk with the coach to make sure all activities are accessible,” or “This won’t happen again, I promise you.” I did not need to hear that I was being used as a test for Christians to prove something.

I was fifteen the first time a pastor tried to heal me. Instead of shaking my hand and briefly commenting on the sermon, he took my sunglasses off, placed his hands on either side of my head and started to speak in tongues. My cane was taken from me. Those who were watching came closer, pushing me and the pastor in the middle of the circle. Later on, I would learn that the people who surrounded me, and held me there did it to protect me. Sometimes, during a situation like this, the person who is getting healed would go into spasms, shaking and trembling with the Spirit. It happened twice more at different churches. My permission was never asked for.

The first time a group of Christians surrounded me and started to pray was when I was twenty. It has happened ten times since then. I get requests when I am walking to the library, walking to my apartment, getting juice from Publix. I had to get forceful with my rejection for a healing prayer twice; in both instances, they refused to accept my decision, one didn’t let me out of the circle until I took my cane to their ankles (by that point, they angrily told me that I deserved to be blind, and that I was being punished by God for my mother’s sin), and the other didn’t let me out until my driver from paratransit came to pick me up.

When I am out with family or friends, I have had strangers tell them how wonderful they are, they are doing good work, ending with a heartfelt God bless them. When this situation comes up, I remember the last line in Luke 14:12-14:

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

 

Which I take to mean, there is no social or financial gain in spending time with the disabled (we have nothing and are incapable of offering you anything in return) – the only thing you get out of it is a feel-good moment, charity work, humbling yourself for God’s reward. My family is used to these incidences, they will smile or nod and continue on with their business; my friends usually smile back with, “She’s actually doing me a favor.”

This is not to say that all Christians are ablest – people with disabilities are to be pitied, healed (fixed/made normal/made complete). Nor am I saying that they all believe disabilities are an act by God – punishment, warning or test. Nor am I saying that Christianity promotes any of the above. However, I am saying that the culture of the Church does neglect the disabled (not hiring interpreters for the Deaf, websites not accessible for the blind, building not accessible for people in wheelchairs, programs, clubs and events for the Church not inclusive); and by doing that, they give a clear message of insensitivity and indifference. It also doesn’t help that sermons are full of examples where disability is viewed as a punishment (for sinning or lack of faith), something to be endured in order to purify the righteous, and an act of charity. The continuous metaphoric use of disability and disobedience to God doesn’t help either.

We are not to be pitied, we are not the teachable moment, we are not sick or incomplete, we are not a miracle, we are not a punishment, and we are not an act of charity.

So Christians, when you see someone with a disability, if your first reaction is to pity them, to hope that one day they will be healed, to think highly of the person they are with – re-examine your attitudes towards people with disabilities. Where do you think these thoughts are coming from and why do you still hold to them, do you really think the only way for a person to feel complete and happy with themselves and their life is to be able-bodied (if you are able-bodied, do you feel complete and happy with yourself and your life?), should people really be praised for being with/a friend to a person with a disability?