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.

Someone Who Is More Than A Few Eye Diseases And A Pair Of Messed Up Eyes

Having multiple eye diseases and a scleral shell means that I am at a doctor’s office at least three times a year. Whether I am seeing my ophthalmologist or oculist, the experience and treatment I receive from them is always the same. They are professional, dedicated and more importantly, they treat me as an individual – someone who is more than a few eye diseases and a pair of messed up eyes.

I have been seeing an ophthalmologist for more than twenty-four years and an oculist for more than ten. My feelings on seeing my doctors have certainly changed, from fear to annoyance to acceptance. I have also realized that my feelings about the waiting rooms and the receptionists have changed too. From joy and eagerness (the thought of getting a lollypop no longer excites me…sort of) to annoyance and frustration.

At my ophthalmologist, the front desk is long – almost half the size of the first waiting room. Today, four people sit behind the desk. Each person has a line of people waiting to sign in. On either side of the first waiting room, there is a larger waiting room. Each of these waiting rooms has a small room attached full of toys for the children. My dad and I decide to sit and wait for the lines to clear.

Regardless of whether I am at my ophthalmologist’s or at my oculist’s, the waiting rooms are different – but the people sitting in them are always the same: young, bored, crying, confused, with or without a cane, in pain, tired, in denial, old, impatient, scared, nervous, lonely, etc. In a twisted way, it is a comfort to me; being there lets me know that I am not alone. The five year old crying, that was me too. The pissed sixteen year old that just lost her vision in her left eye and wants to be anywhere but here, that was me with my right eye at twelve. The man who tells me he just lost his vision, that was me at sixteen. The mother fearing that her child won’t be able to go to college or achieve any of his dreams, don’t worry I tell her – your son will grow up and be a teenager (with all that entails), he will become an adult and accomplish anything he puts his mind to.

The lines have finally cleared and a woman calls to my dad to come up. I walk over ready to give her my information. As I reach the desk, she raises her voice and asks my dad – who is still sitting – for “Her name.” I answer. She then asks my dad “Who is she here to see?” I answer.

This is why my feelings have changed. You work for eye doctors – eye doctors who specialize in eye disorders and you deny personhood to clients? You are the first person they meet – what message are you conveying by not acknowledging us? You are not being welcoming, you are being disrespectful.

I remember scoffing at sensitivity training workshops. What a waste of time – telling people to treat those who have a disability the way you want to be treated. I’m a lot older now – and I understand that most people turn into fools when it comes to us. Unfortunately, sensitivity training is actually needed.

Sensitivity training is a form of training with the goal of making people more aware of their own prejudices and more sensitive towards others. The training provides factual, relevant information to break down assumptions and stereotypes. For example: if an able-bodied person came in, signed her name and answered your questions, assume that the next person in line – whether disabled or not – will be able to do the same. I will always ask for assistance if I am not able to do a certain task on my own – example: signing my name; I don’t know where the line is, so I will ask for help.

Don’t treat us as if we don’t know and can’t do anything; we face that every day. But when we walk in this office – its walls full of pictures, posters and pamphlets of people with little or no vision being themselves and achieving anything, magazines on each table full of knowledge on eye diseases and where to find help. When we come here, we need to know that this is just another bump in the road – a bump that we can get over – don’t act as if the only way we exist is our disability.